Alvaro Lopez, B.S. and Jan Schroeder, Ph.D.
As individuals age, many physical and physiological systems begin to decline. Some we may not even notice until it affects us at the functional level, such as struggling at times to get up from a chair. Changes such as a loss in skeletal muscle mass, known as sarcopenia, decreases in strength, reduced cognitive function, loss of bone mass can affect our ability to live our lives to the fullest. The decline in strength may lead to more serious issues among the older adult population such as an increase in the risk of dementia, loss of living independently, and mortality.
The good thing is that these changes can be slowed down or even reversed through exercise, specifically resistance training exercises. Resistance training stimulates muscle growth by making your muscles work against force caused by weights or resistance. Resistance training can be done with various types of equipment including bands, dumbbells, and anything with a mass that you can think of to incorporate into your routine….milk jugs anyone? As strength training becomes implemented into a routine, muscles in your body begin to adapt to the stress applied by external forces and allows you to lift more weight over time.
Benefits of Resistance Training
The ability to lift more weight and move more comfortably after a couple of weeks or months of strength training is due to improved neuromuscular recruitment patterns and possibly muscular hypertrophy. Neuromuscular recruitment pattern is a fancy way of saying that your brain gets better at recognizing how many muscle fibers it needs to recruit in order to complete a movement. It may take up to 12-20 weeks to establish an efficient pathway from your brain down to your muscle fibers; your strength will improve due to this increased efficiency. As you continue to resistance train, you may experience muscle hypertrophy….don’t worry ladies!...we do not have the hormonal environment to get big bulky muscles. But we can add muscle which allows us to move more efficiently during day to day tasks which sets us up for a greater quality of life. Improving activities of daily living through strength training increases the time that you can live independently.
Resistance training also presents many physiological benefits that have been proven to improve the cognitive function of the brain. Learning a new resistance exercise requires you to focus on proper form to effectively lift the weight without harming yourself and this process of learning challenges your brain's cognitive abilities and improves executive control, memory, and executive functioning which can help delay or prevent dementia!
Strength training is also great for women who suffer from low estrogen levels that can eventually lead to higher rates of bone loss. When women engage in resistance training, bone mass can be maintained or even increased to reduce any further loss of bone density. Lastly, resistance training can help manage and possibly improve chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, obesity, and many more!
Knowing the Basics
When starting a new resistance training program, it is good to have an understanding of the primary movements that should be done. Compound movements should be the majority of your resistance training program. These exercises consist of multi-joint movements such as squats, rows, deadlift, and bench press. They are great for developing overall strength, coordination, balance, and functional movements.
Functional movements such as pushing, pulling, hinging, lunging, squatting, and core work are optimal for transferring your training over to everyday demands such as climbing stairs or unloading a dishwasher. Isolation exercises focus on a specific muscle group and are also great for developing strength in targeted muscles but are less applicable to everyday life skills. A plan focused on compound exercises with isolation exercises used to compliment your program are recommended for a solid strength training routine.
It is important to carefully and gradually progress in weight or resistance of the exercises to continue experiencing skeletal muscle gains. It is suggested that you participate in resistance training a minimum of two days per week to reap the benefits of this wonderful form of exercise.
Seek to switch things up to stay engaged and continue enhancing your performance by working out with our muscle conditioning videos!
Alvaro Lopez, BS is a recent graduate of the Department of Kinesiology - Fitness Option at Long Beach State University, Long Beach.
Seguin R, Nelson ME. The benefits of strength training for older adults. Am J Prev Med. 2003;25(3 Suppl 2):141-149. doi:10.1016/s0749-3797(03)00177-6