5 Reasons Strength Training is Critical for Older Populations

“No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”

Some wise, old dude named Socrates once said the above quote. And you know what? He was absolutely right.

In today's world of technology and information, modern medicine is able to preserve the lives of the sick and elderly long beyond what we were once capable of. But at what of quality of life?

Just because we have a medication for that, or a new treatment for this, the fact that older populations are living longer today (than ever before) has ultimately has NOTHING to do with the improvement of health in our older populations. In fact, with obesity being what it is in our country (a crisis of epidemic proportions), I'd go on the docket to say that health (in terms of strength, body composition, overall activity levels in older populations, not to mention increasing presence of disease pre-cursors) is on a downhill descent overall.

A few possible reasons for overall decline of health:
-Modern conveniences (things we used to go out to do, we can now do from home, seated on our butts)
-Increasing availability of fast food
-Increased level of screen time due to smartphone and tablet usage
-Increased level of time spent in seated position due to all of the above

I'm not here to dissect the problems with modern society, that is a story for another day. What I'm here to say is how you, yes YOU, don't have to (and shouldn't) end up as a statistic! And this brings me to my next point: Strength training is critical for older populations.

Below are five reasons why strength training is critical, even necessary, for older populations:

1. Strength training helps to maintain a healthy body composition
Lifting heavy things promotes an increase in lean muscle mass. Gaining lean muscle will statistically decrease the percentage of body fat in one's body, even if the amount of adipose present doesn't decrease at allas a result of consistent training and a half-way decent diet. Being overweight, or in some cases, over-fat (not appearing overweight but possessing little lean muscle and excess fat, also known as skinny-fat) is a pre-cursor to a number of serious illnesses and/or conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. All of these conditions are preventable. Period. This goes back to activity level, which needs to remain consistently at around 5 hours per week, regardless of activity. In terms of activity selection, strength training should be priority number one as we get older!

2. Strength training preserves strength and movement quality
How often have you heard, "I'm getting too old", or "I threw my out (insert any body part, joint, or injury here)." Roger Murtaugh (played by Danny Glover, of Lethal Weapon fame, perhaps said it best). In my line of work, and in the physical therapy industry, the number of people who seek help for injuries that are 100 percent preventable is insane! If said people took the time to maintain their God-given strength and movement skills they were born with, I'd be out of a job!

Purposeful strength training--you know, the kind where progress is tracked over time and the movements performed are based on improving movement quality alongside strength-- will help to maintain those God-given movement patterns, and in some cases enhance them beyond a person's wildest dreams! Simply put, preserving strength as we get older will decrease the likelihood of injuring oneself because of a fall or slip, or any injury that is related to a severe lack of mobility or stability, or poor movement in general, such as a strained lower back or torn shoulder rotators.

3. Strength training reverses the aging process
With inactivity, strength, muscle mass, bone mass, and bone density will decrease. This is a given, regardless of age or sex. The rate at which the decrease happens, however, increases with time. This means that the older we get, the faster we see decreases in strength, muscle and bone mass.

Performing purposeful "closed chain" strength training exercises (closed chain meaning with the feet or hands in contact with the floor or other stable surface--weighted squats, pushups, deadlifts, to name a few--helps to reverse this trend. In some cases, the amount of bone and muscle mass will increase beyond what previously existed initially (Most machine based strength training, or any kind of training done from the seated position will NOT have this effect). Having strength, muscle, and bone mass in reserve provides a "buffer" when there does come a time when you may need to cease physical activity for whatever reason (surgery, accidental injury, etc.). You'll have something to fall back on, allowing for a more seamless recovery process. This knowledge should prove invaluable to the aging population, because it literally means that you are able to reverse the physical aging process, simply by getting off the couch and doing what you can a few times a week.

4. Strength training helps to improve blood profiles
Whenever performing new client assessments, it's not uncommon for me to be presented with a laundry list of medications that have been prescribed to treat this or that, and in some instances, a list of medications that is prescribed to combat the side effect of other medications. The point is, when I begin working with a person who is taking lots of meds, I make it a secret goal of mine to help them get off of as many of them as possible. Common culprits are cholesterol meds (statins), hypertension meds, anti-depressants, and pain pills, all medications that affect blood profiles.

Without getting all scienc-ey on you, exercise has been shown to dramatically alter hormonal levels (for the better), decrease blood pressure, and improve cholesterol levels. Exercise also is correlated with endorphin releases, and endorphins are kind of like our body's "natural high" drug. They are the things responsible for having increased energy and a more positive outlook on life immediately following an exercise session. To make a long story short, if you're reading this, regardless if you're older or not, and you're taking a long list of medications and NOT exercising, maybe you should consider starting an exercise program. I challenge you to give a serious go of it and NOT see major long term benefits to your overall well-being, not to mention your blood profiles. Or not. Not if you don't like feeling better, looking better, performing better, and living longer, I mean.

5. Strength training preserves independence
This is the golden ticket, folks. Forget everything else you just read, and focus exclusively on this one point: You WILL live longer, and with a better quality of life, if you make strength training a priority (at any age). Not only that, but you will remain able to safely live in your own home, solo in some cases, and live there happily for years longer than a typical older American who doesn't strength train on a regular basis. Don't believe me? Ask any one of my 8+ clients who are over the age of 65. They're strong, studly, and all far from even thinking about assisted living.


Here's the bottom line, folks: If you're above the age of 65 and not strength training, you are doing yourself, and those who care about you most, a disservice. Not only will stick around longer, but you'll stick around longer to be present in the lives of your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. 

Being strong is empowering. Now, quit reading this and go chuck some steel!