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Davis Journal

Strength training improves health as you age

Jan 30, 2023 02:55PM ● By Kerry Angelbuer

One of the most powerful tools in the fitness quest is to take up strength training. The Mayo clinic has a list of chronic conditions that are improved by strength training: arthritis, back pain, obesity, heart disease, depression and diabetes. As people age, muscles begin to shrink, and the muscle tissue is replaced with fat. This can be reversed with strength training. As muscle mass increases, metabolism is increased helping the body burn the extra fat and lose weight. Building lean muscles helps burn more calories even during sleep. 

The Mayo clinic likes to call the gains associated with strength training as quality of life gains. It can improve the ability to do everyday tasks and protect joints from injury, partly because it improves balance and lowers the risk of falls. In older adults, this increased stability can lead to staying independent. Completing their quality-of-life argument, the Mayo clinic points to the research suggesting that strength training along with exercise that raises the heart rate leads to improvements in thinking and learning.

The most common form of strength training uses the weight of the body to build muscle. Push ups and pull ups for the arms, planks for the core of the body, and lunges and squats for the legs. The next level is using resistance tubing that allows strength exercises with greater intensity than that offered by body weight. Free weights are another way to up strength training with a variety of choices from soup cans to dumbbells. The weight room at the Recreation Center or other gyms provides machines that allow strength training to go far beyond body weight in a systematic manner. Fitness coaches are available in these type of places to educate on machine use and making gains. Older individuals or those with chronic health conditions should consult a doctor about proposed fitness activities. 

Whatever form strength training takes, a few basis principals contribute to getting that lean muscle mass. The first important goal is reaching “fatigue.” This is the point at which the body is unable to do another repetition, it is completely spent. Reaching fatigue is the perfect storm for the body to begin to build and harden that muscle. Ideally, fatigue is reached after about 12 to 15 repetitions, so adjustments to the weight lifted are needed to achieve this. Research shows that one session where fatigue is reached after 12-15 repetitions is as effective at building muscle as the older system of doing three sets of  eight repetitions. Strength training requires very little time over all to achieve good results. Usually, strength training a couple of times a week with at least one full day break in between sessions to allow the body to recover is sufficient. 

Jessica Gunn, a personal health coach, credits strength training as a core reason she transformed her life. “I have come from a place of weakness and insecurity to a place of strength and confidence,” she said. “Strength training is about much more than improving how you look on the outside, it also results in less anxiety, stronger bones, sharper cognition, better quality sleep, better posture and increase in energy. Lifting weights basically gives you superpowers. Lifting weights isn’t only about getting stronger and building muscle, it’s about the lessons that you can take away no matter where you are in your life.” Gunn said she has learned that she is capable of doing hard things. “Find your own version of strong. It’s great that you can build muscle and stay strong as you age, but it’s about building character as well. You’re making deposits into your future self.”