The Many Benefits of Weight Training for Older Adults
Weight training is important throughout your life, but in many ways it becomes even more important as you age. Even if you’re in your 90s, it’s not too late. One study found a group of nursing home residents with an average age of 90 improved their strength between 167 and 180 percent after just eight weeks of weight training.
What are some of the other benefits?
- Improved walking ability: After 12 weeks of weight training, seniors aged 65 and over improved both their leg strength and endurance, and were able to walk nearly 40 percent farther without resting.
- Improved ability to perform daily tasks: After 16 weeks of “total body” weight training, women aged 60 to 77 years “substantially increased strength” and had improvements in walking velocity and the ability to carry out daily tasks, such as rising from a chair or carrying a box of groceries.
- Decreased risk of falls: Women between the ages of 75 and 85, all of whom had reduced bone mass or full-blown osteoporosis, were able to lower their fall risk with weight training and agility activities.
- Relief from joint pain: Weight training strengthens the muscles, tendons and ligaments around your joints, which takes stress off the joint and helps ease pain. It can also help increase your range of motion.
- Improved blood sugar control: Weight training helps to control blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.9 It can also reduce your type 2 diabetes risk; strength training for at least 150 minutes a week lowered diabetes risk by 34 percent compared to being sedentary.
Weight training can also go a long way to prevent brittle bone formation, and can help reverse the damage already done. For example, a walking lunge exercise is a great way to build bone density in your hips, even without any additional weights. Strength training also increases your body’s production of growth factors, which are responsible for cellular growth, proliferation, and differentiation. Some of these growth factors also promote the growth, differentiation, and survival of neurons, which helps explain why working your muscles also benefits your brain and helps prevent dementia.
Weight training to help maintain muscle mass in overweight adults
Cardio is often regarded as the exercise of choice for weight loss, but older adults can benefit from adding weight lifting too, as it helps preserve muscle mass more than aerobic workouts.
A study published online Oct. 30, 2017, by the journal Obesity divided 249 overweight or obese adults in their 60s into three groups. One followed a restrictive diet of 1,200 to 1,800 daily calories. Another followed the diet and also did weight-machine workouts (four 45-minute sessions per week, targeting the major muscle groups). The third group followed the diet plus a cardio program of walking (45 minutes, four days a week, at a moderate-intensity level).
Over 18 months, people in both the weight training and cardio groups lost an average of 16 to 17 pounds each, while those in the diet group lost about 10 pounds each. The participants in the two exercise groups lost more fat, but they also lost a bit more muscle mass than those following only a weight loss diet. Compared with walking, weight training preserved more muscle mass.
The researchers also evaluated muscle strength in the legs, which improved with both the walking program and weight training. Weight training added to weight-loss efforts, especially when combined with modest aerobic exercise, offers the best approach to maximize potential health benefits.