Why You Should Be Lifting Weights As You Get Older

weight training Apr 17, 2019

Lifting weights has long been associated with big football players, steroid fuelled gym junkies and Arnold Schwarzenegger. However there is a growing movement backed by a solid chunk of scientific evidence which is pushing for more strength training in older adults. Before we go on, if you have doubt about either the safety or validity of lifting weights in older age, have a read of my previous article .


Health Benefits

Firstly, let me briefly tell you about some of the benefits of weight training as you get older. The health benefits are almost endless but I want to list some of the most important, so here we go.

    • Increased muscle mass and improved muscle quality. Reversing or slowing down of sarcopenia.
    • Improved strength.
    • Improved balance.
    • Increase in overall aerobic endurance, muscular endurance and walking speed.
    • Improved joint health and bone density.
    • Increased walking speed.
    • Reducing risk of falls.
    • Improved memory and overall cognitive functioning.
    • Better recovery from surgery or illness.
    • Improved mental health and reduction in depression, anxiety and overall tension.
    • Improved glycaemic control in patients with Type 2 Diabetes.
    • Improved sleep quality therefore improving recovery, cognitive function and mood.

Now there are many more benefits so if you want to have a more in depth look then check out this great article by Nicholas Rizzo on the ‘78 science back benefits of lifting weights for seniors - https://runrepeat.com/weightlifting-benefits-seniors. It is a great read!



Sarcopenia is the degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass, quality and strength associated with ageing. It is characterized first by muscle atrophy (decrease in muscle size), along with a reduction in muscle tissue quality, when muscle fibres are replaced with fat and there are changes in the muscle metabolism (our ability to break down fuel for our muscles to use). Without weight training intervention, the loss of skeletal muscle mass associated with sarcopenia is on average 1.5% muscle loss per year in your fifties and can accelerate up to 3% per year in your sixties.

Muscle loss can be a result of diminishing anabolic signals which promote our body to build molecules we need for good health and a promotion of catabolic signals which promote the breakdown of molecules and promote inflammation.

Sarcopenia is coupled with a reduction in muscle strength, endurance and power and therefore lifting weights in the long term is the best way to combat sarcopenia and stop it from ever becoming a serious problem. Strength training is one of the most effective ways to directly affect the composition of our muscles and stay healthier for longer. With the reduction in muscle strength, endurance and power one of the biggest problems with sarcopenia is the toll it takes on your functional capacity.


Functional Capacity

So what is functional capacity? Well if carrying 15 kilograms worth of shopping bags pushes your limits then it would be your capacity for this given task. Your overall functional capacity is the ability to carry out all the daily tasks you do in life. Weight training can dramatically increase this capacity.

Imagine you start weight training, performing an exercise where you carry heavy weights for 20 metre intervals. You start at 15 kilograms in each hand (closely mimicking lifting your shopping bags) and week by week you slowly work your way up to 25 kilograms in each hand. Next time you go to lift the shopping you will find lifting 15 kilograms from the car to the kitchen easier. You have just increased your functional capacity.

Maybe getting out of the chair is difficult for you due to knee arthritis and associated leg weakness. Once again you begin to train the squat at the gym, beginning with bodyweight squats out of the chair. As the weeks go by you progress to holding a 15 kilogram weight whilst squatting up and down from the chair. You now find hopping out of your chair simple! Once again you have increased your functional capacity.

Weight lifting stops the sharp decline in muscle loss and therefore improves functional capacity. The opposite is true of the majority of the population, especially in females and therefore sarcopenia continues to have a large effect on the aging community.


So how much strength training do you need to make yourself stronger?

The evidence shows that doing one set of exercises three times a week is enough to provide increases in strength, muscle mass and a decrease in body fat. However doing 3 sets of these exercises resulted in a dramatic boost in results. A session in the gym can be over and done with in 30-40 minutes. Now compare that to the negative consequences of osteopenia. It makes the decision a lot easier.

Now it is important to note that strength training doesn’t mean you will be sweating yourself silly and going home with no energy after every session. If you are being trained to exhaustion every time well then you or your trainer are doing something wrong. Strength training should be progressive and controlled. The idea is to make yourself want to go back to lift some weights as opposed to scaring you away from weights forever.


In conclusion…

Weight training is one of the most effective ways to improve overall musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, cognitive and mental health and is safe when performed in a controlled environment.

It directly combats sarcopenia which is one of the most devastating ageing diseases and increases functional capacity which will improve your ability to go about all your daily activities in a stronger and more confident way.

All it takes is two to three, 30-40 minute sessions of weight training per week to gain much of these benefits. If you already go to a gym that is awesome and I think you should continue. But if you are unsure of how to start strength training then come and see us at our Studio in Elanora Heights and we can get you started. Happy lifting!


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