Lifting weights prevents and can even reverse sarcopenia. With regular resistance training — whether with machines, dumbbells, bands or bodyweight — your body adapts to the neuromuscular demands by becoming stronger. As your strength increases you’ll need to periodically up the resistance, do more repetitions or sets, switch from bodyweight to a method providing extra resistance, or work out more often. This will help you avoid plateauing and keep your workout interesting.
If you’re over 50 and don’t practice full body resistance training exercises at least twice per week, you need to start. Now.
Here’s why. When we’re around 30, the untrained body starts to lose muscle mass. This process – medically known as sarcopenia – continues as you age: make it to 70 and you’ll have lost around 25% of your strength. If you’re lucky enough to hang on until 90, nearly half of your muscle tissue will be gone.
Chronic stress increases levels of the hormone cortisol, which over time causes your body to store more calories as fat and contributes to overeating. But resistance training releases endorphins – your feel-good hormones – into your system, actually helping to counter chronic stress. After a weight lifting session you’ll have more energy. You’ll probably sleep better, continuing the positive energy cycle into the following day. Strength training has also shown promising results in treating clinical depression, anxiety and mood swings, making it essential for women experiencing the hormonal roller coaster ride known as menopause.
Attempting to lose weight by doing only cardio and/or dieting is one of the biggest mistakes people make at the gym. You might lose pounds, but a surprisingly high percentage of what you’ve lost will be muscle. Muscle is a very metabolically active tissue, meaning it requires calories for maintenance. More muscle equals a higher metabolic rate: you burn more calories even when at rest, and have more success maintaining a healthy body weight.
You might be better able to control cravings, too: following a strength training session, your appetite actually decreases, thanks to a rise in the appetite-controlling hormone Peptide YY.
When sarcopenia sets in, your mobility, strength, balance and metabolism can all be affected. For many older people this gradual loss of muscle leads to falls, loss of independence and even death. Regular resistance training gives you the endurance and strength to make daily tasks like getting out of a car, carrying your groceries, climbing stairs or picking up a child easier to do safely. A stronger body means a longer, more independent life.
Around menopause, hormonal changes can cause a loss of libido for some women. And guys, you’re not immune: your testosterone levels start to decrease after age 30. Regular strength training increases your testosterone, endorphins and adrenaline, all of which improve your sex drive. Your increased muscular endurance and strength won’t hurt your performance, either.
Sarcopenia doesn’t spare any muscles: our pelvic floor muscle group, the ones that contract during orgasm, atrophy with age if not exercised just like any other muscles. Pelvic floor exercises should be included in your routine to keep those important muscles functioning properly.
This one should come as no surprise. Heart disease, cancer, strokes, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and many other common but potentially deadly diseases can be prevented with a regular, balanced exercise program.
Among Canadians 65 and over, falls are the leading cause of injury. 95% of all hip fractures are caused by falls, and 20% of hip fractures lead to death. Bone, like muscle, is living tissue that becomes stronger when stressed. Strong muscles attach to strong bones, creating resistance to fracture.
If you’re new to resistance or strength training, I strongly recommend hiring a qualified personal trainer with experience with adults over 50 to learn to do it correctly: those YouTube videos can’t give you feedback, and those fit looking people in the gym you’re copying might just be doing it all wrong.
So don’t wait: if you haven’t already, start now!