Strength training goes a long way in terms of supporting bone health, making aerobic exercise more productive, preventing injury and facilitating healthy ageing. No matter your age or athletic ability, strength training helps with flexibility and improved performance by using opposing force to build strength across your body and increase your muscle mass.
What is strength training?
This is also known as weight or resistance training. It is a form of physical activity designed to improve muscular strength and fitness by exercising a specific muscle group against external resistance. It is based on functional movements: lifting, pushing and pulling, in order to build muscle and coordination needed for everyday activities.
It is recognised that the ageing process begins when we hit 40 and when we reach 50 ageing starts to affect three important systems directly and progressively:
The musculoskeletal system:
This is one aspect of physical health and consists of 3 components: muscular strength, endurance, and flexibility. Musculoskeletal conditions can cause pain, stiffness and often inflammation in one or more joints or muscles. Regular exercise can reduce some of these symptoms and improve your joint mobility and strength.
The cardiovascular system:
Regular strength training can lower blood pressure and improves overall cardiovascular health by strengthening the heart and blood vessels. Combining aerobic and strength exercises improves our muscles’ ability to extract oxygen from the blood which means our heart doesn’t have to work so hard to pump blood to the muscles.
The neuromuscular system:
The control of the muscles via specialised nerves. Addresses the quality of movement and emphasises joint control in all three movement planes.
By keeping active or by increasing activity the impact of this progressive degradation is limited or in some cases “put on hold”.
Recent studies have looked at how strength training such as press ups and ab curls can help to curb the progress of degradation.
People who do not engage in any sort of strength training will lose 40–50% of their muscular strength by the age of 65. Some people will become so weak that performing everyday activities becomes hard work or even impossible.
Recent studies suggest that one of the easiest ways to keep mobile is to work on existing strength. In most people, the strongest muscles are found in the legs – quads, hamstrings, calves and glutes.
By improving our current strength in the most used groups of muscles it is possible to make everyday tasks like opening jars or getting up from the floor, easier or at least “doable”.
Muscles can be a furnace for burning calories, and we get the best results when strength training is combined with any type of aerobic exercise, for example brisk walking, energetic dancing, bike riding or swimming. The bigger muscle mass that we have, the more capacity we have to burn calories and the less likely we are to gain weight as we get older.
Benefits of strength training
Strength training provides an endless number of benefits, such as increased bone, muscle, tendon and ligament strength, improved joint function, reduced potential for injury, increased bone density, a temporary increase in metabolism and improved cardiac function.
Reduce arthritis and back pain
‘Toned’ muscles help to support the bones that make up the joints and make a strong structure which reduces the load on the joint. Joints are kept lubricated by “Synovial Fluid”. This is a sticky gooey substance that is produced by the linings over the ends of the bones in the joints. It keeps the joint well lubricated and mobile. The synovial fluid and membrane also prevent bone from rubbing against bone which causes pain in the joint.
Increases your bone density
As we age our bones become less dense and more brittle. Exercise helps to keep the density of bones and can delay or prevent osteoporosis. It improves glucose intolerance and insulin sensitivity – strength training has been shown to improve the way the body uses sugar and therefore can help lessen the onset of diabetes as you age.
Improve mobility and functional ability
Maintaining or even improving our muscle strength allows us to carry on doing what we like doing when we want to do it!
Improves balance and coordination and helps to prevent falls
Strength training helps reduce the risk of falls because you are better able to support your body and strong muscles help to keep your body in the upright position. By having strong muscles, even if you do fall, you also have the strength to get up and to repair quickly.
Using the same group of muscles repeatedly but in the incorrect way could lead to incorrect posture. Strength training of certain muscle groups can help to improve your posture.
As you incorporate strength training exercises into your fitness routine, you may notice improvement in your strength over time. As your muscle mass increases, you'll likely be able to lift weight more easily and for longer periods of time. If you keep it up, you can continue to increase your strength, even if you're not in shape when you begin.
The good news is that it is never too late to take back control and to start to improve from where you currently are. All it takes is a sensible and regular dose of strength training.
Taking part in a strength training session as little as only once or twice a week will provide significant improvements, training 3 times a week will give maximum results.
Exercise has also been shown to combat depression, to improve self-esteem and if you join a class it is also a great way to make new friends!