As we get older, we may notice more aches and pains.
We are a little stiffer. We don’t jump out of bed as quickly…
We are more prone to pulling a muscle, or “throwing our back out.”
It takes us longer to heal from injuries…
And as a physiotherapist, I often hear people say that this is part of getting older.
Maybe. But it doesn’t mean “it is what it is” and you have no control over your body’s health and fitness!
In fact, as you get older, you will benefit MORE from strength training than you would have when you were younger.
I already walk regularly, so that’s enough exercise
Walking is actually cardio exercise. If you have not recently been on bedrest (and become quite de-conditioned), it will not affect your strength.
Your muscles do not really get enough stimulation to grow stronger from just walking. Their baseline strength is somewhat maintained by regular walks, but there is no added strengthening benefit.
More than that, in order for you to get the cardiorespiratory benefits of walking, you need to feel exertion and raise your heart rate. In other words, a leisurely walk may feel nice but to get the real benefits of cardio exercise, such as:
- improving heart rate,
- controlling blood sugar and cholesterol,
- burning calories,
- boosting your mood,
- improving your brain function and memory,
you need to add some pep to your step! 😉 To do this, you can:
- increase your speed,
- hold onto small weights,
- go on rougher terrain (lots of hills, or incline on the treadmill),
- increase the distance to tire you out and work on your endurance…
Cardio exercise is great at any age and you shouldn’t trade it for strength training. But as we get older, it alone is not enough.
So what is strength training then?
Usually, strength training for your muscles means using resistance (such as weights, or even your body weight) in a repetitive manner. When done regularly, this causes an adaptive response in your muscles to grow larger and more efficient.
And why should I bother to do this?
Have you ever heard the term “sarcopenia?” It means the loss of muscle tissue due to aging.
Not only do we lose muscle mass more quickly as we age, but the type of muscle fibers in our body also changes. This leads to reduced muscle responsiveness and power overall.
Strength training can offset these changes. The benefits:
- Maintain your muscle mass and strength so that you are able to engage in your daily tasks, as well as the activities you enjoy, for a long time to come. In other words, maintaining your strength means maintaining your independence as you get older.
- Reduce risk of falls (our declining strength is also accompanied by reduced coordination and balance for a number of reasons, which overall increase the likelihood of falls –> long hospital stays –> further muscle strength decline & increased risk of infections)
- Maintain / improve bone density (as we get older, our risk of osteoporosis increases, and therefore, so does our risk of fractures if we have a fall)
- Other associated benefits: improved sleep and mood, contribution to weight loss
Alright, so how do I start strength training?
Select three days per week, preferably every other day (e.g. Monday / Wednesday / Friday).
Start slow. Maybe just 15-20 minutes whenever in the day works best with your schedule.
Play energetic music, or have the TV on to something you enjoy watching. Your workouts will often reflect your mood 😉
Now, let’s consider the major muscle groups:
- Chest (pecs): some common workouts include chest presses, flies
- Back: rowing, lat pull downs
- Shoulders: shoulder presses, front and side arm lifts
- arms (biceps and triceps): bicep curls, tricep extensions
- abdominals (core): bird-dogs, crunches, side crunches, planks, side planks, bridges
- gluts: bridges, clam shells, side and back leg raises, squats!
- legs (quads, hamstrings, calves): lunges, single leg deadlifts, heel raises
You don’t have to start with all of these. Maybe pick a few of these exercises to begin, and gradually add on based on how you are doing. Some of these exercises also work multiple body parts. If you don’t have knee pain, then squats and lunges are great multi-purpose exercises!
- Often, people will alternate between upper body and lower body workout days. It depends on preference and convenience.
- Start with body weight only, and as the workouts get easier, start using weights or resistance bands or machines in the gym.
- Start with 3-4 sets of 6-8 repetitions with high intensity exercises, and 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions with low intensity exercises. If a weight is heavy and you fatigue quickly, it is high intensity. If using light weights, or body weight only, it will likely be lower intensity.
- Look up some free YouTube workout videos, or an app like the free Nike Training Club App, and do only what feels comfortable to you… don’t push yourself too hard when starting out because we need to build up the endurance first, or we risk straining a muscle!
- Consider consulting a personal trainer for a few sessions to get exercise suggestions and work on your technique.
- Depending on local COVID-19 restrictions, as well as your personal comfort level, joining an exercise class may help your motivation, discipline, and overall confidence with working out!
If you develop pain as a result from your workouts, rest for a week before trying again. If the pain is not going away, your technique or something else is likely amiss. Contact your local physiotherapist for guidance, especially if you’ve struggled with injuries in the past, or are still recovering from one! If you are unsure about coming in due to COVID-19, we also offer Telehealth appointments!