5 Ways Strength Training Slows Aging
Strength Training Prevents Muscle Loss Due to Aging
Most people begin to lose muscle mass during the middle of the third decade of life. The rate of muscle loss is faster and more pronounced in people who aren’t active. Strength training slows muscle loss, so much so that people who strength train regularly often have the muscle composition of someone decades younger. You don’t have to use barbells or dumbbells to get the benefits. Bodyweight exercises, such as push-ups, and resistance bands, are effective too and they’re less intimidating when you first start out.
Strength Training Reduces Bone Loss Too
Osteoporosis is one of the leading health problems women face with age. In fact, one out of two women over the age of 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis. You start losing bone during the second to third decade of life and bone loss speeds up after menopause. Women who are small-boned or thin are at higher risk, and smoking also increases the likelihood of developing osteoporosis.
Fortunately, strength training is healthy for your bones. When you work your muscles against resistance by lifting weight or doing bodyweight exercises, it pulls on the underlying bones. This action stimulates the laydown of new bone by bone-producing cells called osteoblasts. In turn, this reduces bone loss due to aging. Research suggests that lifting heavy weights (around 80% of one-rep max or greater) is most effective for stimulating the laydown of new bone, but some studies also suggest that using lighter weights and performing higher reps have some benefit too. The key is to fatigue the muscles you’re working when you train.
The earlier you start training your muscles and bones against resistance, the better. You have the most bone mass in your mid-20s and it declines after that. Strength training slows this process down and helps lower the risk of osteoporosis.
One of the most important reasons to strength train is to stay functional as the decades go by. What good is it to be alive if you struggle to do the things you enjoy? Strong muscles give you the ability to carry out the activities you do every day from keeping the house clean to enjoying a day at the beach. The old saying is right; if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.
Using a fast tempo when you do some weight training sets is beneficial too. Moving a weight through space quickly builds muscle power, the ability to generate force quickly. That’s important for functional activities, like getting up out of a chair. One reason older people end up in a wheelchair is that they don’t have enough muscle power to thrust themselves up from a sitting position. Keep doing the things you enjoy for longer by working your body against resistance.
Strength Training Improves Metabolic Health
Cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes are two of the biggest health problems that shorten lifespans and speed up aging. Strength training improves how cells respond to insulin (insulin sensitivity), thereby improving blood sugar control. Training your muscles against resistance also helps with weight loss and weight control. Maintaining a healthy body weight and healthy insulin sensitivity lowers your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. It’s one of the many benefits of working your muscles against resistance.
This would be the biggest benefit of all! Believe it not, research shows that being physically stronger could help you live longer, and getting that way won’t happen by sitting on the couch. Studies where researchers measure muscle strength and follow those participants show that older adults who are stronger have up to a 50% lower risk of dying early. Other research looking at handgrip strength, for example, also shows a correlation between grip strength and reduced mortality.
The Bottom Line
Strength training gives you a healthier, more aesthetically pleasing physique but it can also slow the aging process and help you stay functional longer. Start where you are and at your own pace but take advantage of all the health and fitness benefits strength training offers.
Independent.co.uk. “High Muscle Strength Could Help You Live Longer, Study Finds”
WebMD.com. “Women and Weight Training for Osteoporosis”
Clin Interv Aging. 2019; 14: 1681-1691. Published online 2019 Oct 1. doi: 10.2147/CIA.S194543.
Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Mar; 16(5): 740.Published online 2019 Mar 1. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16050740