Why Older Adults Should Start Strength Training

It’s important to stay active as you get older. It’s good for your body as well as your mind, and can even lift your mood and spirits.

But if you want to be as healthy and as strong as you can possibly be later in life, adding strength training to your exercise routine is the way to go. This is because strength training offers a lot of benefits, and it is safe to do as long as you stay within a few guidelines.

It is important to talk with your doctor before beginning any type of exercise program. This ensures that the workout you want to do is good for you based on your health conditions and fitness status. Your doctor may also have suggestions on which exercises to include or avoid to keep your strength-based workouts safe.

Benefits of Strength Training

Lifting weights isn’t just for athletes or bodybuilders. It’s for everyone, especially older adults. There are many ways in which strength training benefits seniors. They include:

  • Reducing the rate at which you lose muscle as you age, also known as sarcopenia
  • Giving you more energy
  • Making it easier to manage your weight
  • Reducing symptoms of health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia
  • Lowering your levels of inflammation and pain
  • Improving your glucose control

Research also shows that resistance exercise helps improve your balance. One study found that it can even reduce your risk of falls by up to 50%.

Together, all of these benefits can help you stay healthier as you get older. They can also keep you more independent.

How to Start a Strength Training Routine

If you’ve never lifted weights, you may be wondering where to start. Following a few basic guidelines can help you create a weight lifting routine that is both effective and safe.

First, start slow. The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) recommends that older adults begin with two days of strength training per week with at least one day of rest in between. Rest days allow your muscles to repair themselves and grow stronger while also giving your body a chance to recover.

As you get stronger, you may decide to add a third day of strength training. You can also increase the intensity or your sessions after you get used to lifting weights. You do this by lifting heavier weights or doing more repetitions (lifting the weight more times).

If you’re not sure that you’re ready to lift heavier weights or lift lighter weights more times, it can help to meet with a personal trainer. This person will give you some guidance as you begin your strength training journey, which includes also making sure you’re using proper form so you don’t injure yourself.

Creating a Complete Strength Training Workout

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued physical activity guidelines which recommend that older adults work all of their major muscle groups when strength training. This means that your weight lifting routine should work the muscles in your:

When your strength training routine hits all of these areas, it gives you a full body workout. You’ll notice that you feel stronger when doing everyday activities like putting away the groceries, cleaning the house, or playing with your grandchildren.

Working each group has other benefits as well. For example, strengthening the muscles in your core (your stomach and hip area) helps with reducing back pain. And if you increase the muscle in your legs, it can help with your balance.

Strength Training Exercises to Consider

If you are doing your strength training workout in a gym, you can use machines to hit all of these areas. You can do leg presses, chest presses, seated rows, trunk curls, and back extensions. If you don’t know how to use these machines, ask a staff member for help.

You can also strength train without machines. This involves doing exercises that use your own body weight or using handheld equipment such as dumbbells, resistance bands, medicine balls, or kettlebells. For example, you can do:

The HHS suggests doing each of these exercises eight to 12 times until you begin to develop some strength. Then you can increase these numbers by doing two to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions, building your muscle even more.

When to Hire a Personal Trainer

A qualified certified trainer (especially one with experience in working with older adults) can provide a fitness evaluation and make suggestions regarding the best exercises for you. They can also evaluate your form during exercise and help you track your progress.

A lot of gyms and fitness facilities have a personal trainer on staff. All you have to do is sign up for a session. Another option is to contact an independent personal trainer and ask them to come to your home. This is helpful if you have trouble getting around or if you don’t have reliable transportation.

Personal trainers serve as coaches, mentors, and workout partners. If you feel that you could benefit from having someone in any of these roles, then hiring a personal trainer may be the best move for you.

To find a good personal trainer, look for someone with a fitness education who is also certified. Ask them what assessments they do and how they set up their training programs. This can help you decide if they are the right trainer for you.

Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  6. Lacroix A, Kressig R, Muehlbauer T, et al. Effects of a supervised versus an unsupervised combined balance and strength training program on balance and muscle power in healthy older adults: A randomized controlled trial. Gerontology. 2016;62:275-288. doi:10.1159/000442087

By Paige Waehner, CPT

Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the “Guide to Become a Personal Trainer,” and co-author of “The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness.”

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