Aging is one of those inevitabilities in life from which we can run but cannot hide. Weeks turn into months which turn into decades. Some people age well, maintaining physical fitness and vigor while others become frail and dependent on others for their basic life needs.
While much of aging is out of our hands, dictated by our genes and unanticipated diseases, much is within our control. Pharmacy shelves and the back pages of magazines are full of quick fix solutions for aging. Take this pill and live forever is the implied promise.
Instead consider strength training as an easy and readily available avenue to help you age well. A recent New York Times article made the case for weight training to not only build strength and muscle mass but also to boost motivation and confidence, leading individuals to continue their training programs.
Aging begins early, in fact by our early 40s, most of us are losing 5 percent of our muscle mass each decade. Multiple studies have shown that older people who lift weights gain muscle mass and strength, reversing this downward trend. Lifting also improves mobility and mental acuity. This all seems easy but only 17 percent of older Americans regularly lift weights.
What are the practical benefits of weight training? Arthritis, including back pain, can improve as one gains strength. Better weight control and balance. Strength training improves sleep, blood sugar control, and depression, all more problematic as we get older. Aging well helps maintain independence.
Falls, which I wrote about a few months ago, are the leading cause of fatal injury in older adults. Losing one’s balance, particularly while lifting a heavy or odd object, is a common cause of falling. A stronger body reduces this risk significantly.
So now what? Head to the local gym and grab the nearest barbell? Not quite. Proper technique and instruction are of utmost importance to avoid injury. Find a gym or health club with competent trainers. Start slow and don’t compare yourself to the Adonis at the squat rack lifting more pounds than you can count.
Begin with body weight only. Our bodies contain enough weight to use as a starting point. With proper instruction and progression, weights are added, including potentially a barbell, allowing you to gain strength while moving increasing loads in basic movement patterns. This all forces muscles to adapt to increased loads and grow stronger.
Some of those aches and pains may lessen or disappear. Day to day tasks may become easier. Sleep and mood may improve. While you probably won’t live longer, you will live better, remaining more active and enjoying life. That’s the motivation to keep lifting those weights, keeping us strong and vital until the end.
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