The importance of strength training

Strength training offers many benefits as we age, especially if we are living with chronic conditions.

A woman exercising in the park.
Photo: Pexels/Shvets Production.

As we age, our bodies change and may experience gradual declines in function and ability. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) reports that most adults start losing muscle mass around ages 30 to 35. If not addressed over time, this may progress into a condition called sarcopenia, which is the accelerated loss of muscle mass and strength.

Sarcopenia typically occurs after age 65 and has been connected to fatigue, lower energy levels and weakness. This may be why almost a third of adults over age 70 have issues with walking, climbing stairs or rising from a seated position. One important way to counter this is by engaging in strength training exercises that focus on using resistance or weights to strengthen one’s muscles.

Strength training also increases bone strength by increasing bone mass and bone mineral density. This reduces the risk of osteoporosis, a bone disease that is a major cause for fractures. For people living with diabetes, strength training can help the body utilize insulin better, which lowers blood glucose levels. The American Diabetes Association recommends doing some type of strength training exercise at least twice a week in addition to aerobic activities (like walking, jogging, cycling, dancing and swimming).

Some examples of strength training exercises include:

  • Stretching with resistance bands.
  • Using weight machines or free weights.
  • Rucking (walking with a weighted vest or backpack).
  • Lifting light weights or objects like canned goods or water bottles at home.
  • Using one’s own body as a weight (push-ups, sit-ups, squats, lunges and planks).
  • MSU Extension’s Tai Chi for Arthritis and Falls Prevention program, which improves strength and helps prevents falls and improve balance.

Before beginning a new exercise regimen, share your plans with one’s primary care provider and discuss any questions or concerns. In addition, it is important to consider the following tips from the NIA when strength training:

  • Start slowly. Gradually increase resistance or weights when two sets of 10-15 repetitions can be easily completed.
  • Breathe regularly. Do not hold your breath during resistance training.
  • Exhale as you lift or push, and inhale as you relax.
  • Avoid exercising the same muscle groups (arms, legs) two days in a row.

Regularly incorporating strength training into one’s weekly schedule can help prevent or manage chronic conditions such as sarcopenia, osteoporosis or diabetes, and improve one’s overall quality of life. To find out more about beneficial health practices, programs and resources, visit MSU Extension's Food & Health website.

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