Strength training is beneficial at any age. Strength training after 50 should be mandatory. Health concerns that result in medical costs, loss of independence, and early decline could be avoided or reduced with weight training.
The list of issues that plagues many adults over 50, including women going through menopause, is almost exactly opposite the list of weight training benefits well documented in research. Sleep issues, weigh gain, joint pain, depression, anxiety, blood pressure, cholesterol, bone density, loss of stamina, strength and endurance, low back pain, and digestive issues are common complaints among older adults.
The answer for avoiding or improving any of those issues requires a low investment of time, money, and energy compared to the cost of living with any of them.
“More and more research is finding that it is, in fact, the only type of exercise that can substantially slow, and even reverse, the declines in muscle mass, bone density, and strength that were once considered unavoidable parts of aging.”
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has fitness guidelines specific to weight training for adults over 50. The guidelines state lifting weights 2 or 3 times a week for 8-10 major muscle groups with a weight heavy enough to fatigue muscles in 10 to 15 repetitions.
Reductions in bone density, and even improvements once thought not possible, occur with weight training though not with cardiovascular training. I’ve stated many times that you can’t outrun, out-Zumba, osteoporosis. Avid runners – both enthusiasts and elite athletes are prone to fractures if they are not lifting weights.
You also can’t hope that Barre, Pilates, or Yoga will increase your bone health as effectively as weight training. There will be small gains for anyone coming off the couch, or new to the exercises but all three (and the infinite variations of fusion that exist) lack both the weight bearing and weight load necessary for optimal bone density. The bottom line is if bone density is a concern and it should be given lifespan is extending and losses begin at about age 30, your return from 20 minutes of weight training twice a week is significantly greater than other exercise.
Weight training works on bones in two ways. The increased muscle pull on bones and the increased stress to the bone from the load on the skeleton during lifting both support increased bone density.
What’s the difference between adults who strength training after 50 vs. those who don’t?
For a small investment of 40 to 60 minutes of your week the returns are significant. Impressive improvements in sleep, appetite, blood sugar control, arthritis, injury reduction, fewer falls and improved immunity are a few of the benefits.
Metabolism often decreases with age, due in part to a loss of muscle, which in turn contributes to less activity and it begins to spiral downward from there. Weight training is one of the best ways to stimulate metabolism long term by preventing muscle loss and increasing lean tissue. See below for more on improving metabolism by reducing fat and increasing lean tissue.
You can look at strength training two ways. It will indeed prevent some of the once-assumed “normal” degenerative issues associated with aging. That approach of avoidance however is not a tremendous motivator for most of us. The bigger win is related to enjoying benefits as opposed to not suffering from disease or decline. You can enjoy more energy, vitality, more intimacy (yes, sex is a benefit), more productivity, creativity and better problem solving.
You’re not just reducing your medical bills and insurance rates (fitness habits often result in lower premiums), you’re enhancing your enjoyment of life!
One of our STRONGER participants said it best.
“I do feel stronger. More important than that though: I got myself back. I feel more like me than I have in years.”
That was after just eight weeks of strength training twice a week.
What kind of results can you expect?
If you’re new to strength training, or you change your program I’m most excited for you! You’ll experience the most results. A study by Wayne Westcott showed study participants doing a traditional weight training program (similar to ACSM recommendations) loss 4 lbs. of fat and gained 3 lbs. of muscle in four weeks. Similar results continued for each of the first three months of strength training.
The end result of 12 weeks of strength training for subjects on average was 12 lbs of fat loss and 9 lbs of muscle gain. That may be just 4 lbs reflected on the scale, yet your body composition improvements will mean a higher metabolism and significant change in inches.
Further, unlike cardiovascular exercise that has limited influence on body shape, weight training can significantly improve body proportion. Nothing will change your shape like strength training, before or after 50.
In addition, the benefits last longer than say micro-movements of barre or other conditioning classes. That’s not to say they have no value, but they are not going to have a major influence on your metabolism (or bone density, mood, cholesterol or blood pressure) compared to strength training. If time is of the essence, strength training after 50 provides the greatest return.
The more you move, the better. The sweet spot for strength training frequency that improves overall activity level all day is twice a week. Those who do more, tend to compensate with couch time and those who train less than twice weekly on weights tend not to experience the benefit of increased energy and desire to be more active.
Why don’t most adults participate in strength training after 50?
They never started.
It’s the single biggest reason. Baby boomer women weren’t necessarily socialized to value weight training as young adults. Strength training after 50 will be much more the norm in one or two decades when those flipping 50 have been frequenting the weight room more consistently for decades. [One of the best things you can do to influence the health and longevity of a young woman is to encourage her to get into the weight room now!]
Getting acclimated to a gym or weight room as an older adult can be more intimidating if you don’t already have some sense of what you’re doing.
Fewer than 15% of adults over 60 achieve a habit of weight training twice a week.
Most adults over 60 state reasons like injury (not necessarily caused by the weight training) or illness, or travel were stated as the biggest reasons for dropping out. But a significant number of responses indicate that a lack of support during programs played a part in ceasing to either start or continue strength training after 50.
The anecdote? Start today. Think about what would make it more comfortable for you. Private studio or at-home exercise? One-on-one trainer or a group program? Online coach or commute to a fitness center? With a friend or solo focused on your needs? Until you’re comfortable and intimidation is a non-factor, make sure you’ve got support.
How can you ensure that you continue strength training after 50?
There’s a drop out rate for strength training after 50 of up to 45% percent depending on circumstances (training alone, in a group).
Based on much of the research on retention and on behavior change I’ve studied over three decades, the keys to regular strength training after 50 are not surprising and you may have guessed.
1) Get support from an expert you trust
Find a program, a video, or a trainer with experience working with someone like you. In my hypothesis and experience, none of us is truly lazy, but we are reluctant if we don’t have confidence what we do is getting us closer to our goals. Find a source you trust with a track record of success.
2) Confirm you’re following a program designed based on research about you.[39% of ALL sports medicine and exercise research features females: a fraction of that is based on women in peri-menopause and beyond]. Because you’ve got unique multiple needs: hormones, metabolism, bone density, body composition … you need a program designed based on research featuring subjects like YOU.
3) Make sure the program addresses your priorities.
You probably have more than one goal. If you’re seeking hormone balance, care for joints, increased strength and bone density, go shopping not for a program labeled “strength training after 50” (or something similar which could be a marketing ploy placed on anything). Instead, ask for details about the design of the program and the science behind it.
I’d love to hear from you. Are you strength training after 50? How long have you been strength training? Share your age: it’s relevant! You could inspire someone!
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