Strength training makes a difference at all ages!

Until three decades ago, many health professionals labeled strength training for older adults as unsafe. Concerns about the risks of heart attacks or strokes overruled potential benefits of strength training.

Then came a sea change in thinking.

In 1990, a bold, landmark study showed that eight weeks of strength training increased the leg strength of very old and frail people by 174%!  The leg muscle mass of these older adults also increased, and their walking speed improved by nearly 50%. In layman’s terms, it would appear that strength training postpones ageing in older adults!

Because the initial strength levels of the participants in the study were low, their improvement was both rapid and significant.  This pointed to another key finding:  older muscle is highly adaptable to exercise training!  


What exactly is strength training?

Strength training is actually “resistance training.”  And the resistance can be in the form of hand weights, weight machines, and resistance bands. In fact, a suitable place to start strength training focuses on performing exercises using your bodyweight.  This provides an opportunity to build a base level of strength. You can launch a strength training program with standard exercises such as leg raises, sit to stand exercises, push-ups, toe raises, and planks. Thus, you don’t need to convert your spare bedroom into a home gym to accommodate a strength-training power cage!


A 20-minute workout is 2% of your waking hours


To begin, a  20-minute workout, performed every other day, will reap rewards.  If pushups and lunges appear daunting based on your strength level, you can perform “assisted” exercises that make use of a wall, a doorframe, or a table.  For example, you can begin with standing wall push-ups, or steady yourself with your arms on the back of a sofa while performing a leg lunge.  Once you’ve increased strength (which may occur more rapidly than you think), you can introduce resistance bands or hand weights to your workout. Use small weights (loads) at first, and gradually increase the number of repetitions per exercise. Then ‘graduate’ to heavier weights and perform a smaller number of repetitions in the beginning.


It’s never too late to start


A previous blog we wrote highlighted how active people have a 10-year strength advantage compared with inactive people of the same age.  Yet, is it too late to begin strength training?

The answer? – NO, it isn’t too late to start strength training! Evidence for this statement comes from another research study  I conducted at the University of Sydney. In response to 12 weeks of strength training of the leg muscles (36 sessions total),  a group of independent and very able women aged 71 years improved their leg strength by 43%!

These women also improved their speed relevant to walking, climbing stairs, and getting in and out of a chair. Moreover, the muscle mass in their legs increased by 10%.  By improving their strength, they also reversed their “strength age” by 5 years: hence they progressed from the average strength of a 71-year-old to the average of a 66-year-old.  In simple terms, they reversed ageing by 5 years within a span of 12 weeks. Strength training postpones ageing!  The changes were remarkable for some of these women. They felt stronger, more confident and more able bodied.

This is real data on real people.  The key message here is strength training postpones ageing in older adults. And stronger bodies tend to be active bodies! Adhere to the clear international activity guidelines for recommended activity levels of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week or 75 minutes of intense exercise.  For older adults, strength training twice a week is recommended.

To help you be active, try some of the SimpliMove.Health exercise challenges from 2020.

Challenge 1       7-Day strength-based exercises 

Challenge 2       7-Day strength-based exercises 

Challenge 3       6 Week aerobic exercise – running 

Challenge 4       6 Week aerobic exercise – walking 

Challenge 5       7-Day strength-based exercises 

Challenge 6       7-Day strength-based exercises 

Challenge 7       7-Day strength-based exercises 

Challenge 8       7-Day strength and aerobic exercises