USE IT OR LOSE IT!
The increased importance of strength training as we age
Exercise is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle throughout our lifespan. However, with the changes that come along with ageing, such as decreases in muscle and bone mass, it makes it a particularly important period of our life to focus on this specific type of training. Below are some conditions that are common in the ageing population that receive great benefit from the effects of strength training.
Sarcopenia (muscle loss)
As we age, the body unfortunately experiences an involuntary loss in muscle mass, leading to reduced strength, endurance and function. Sarcopenia is what we call this loss of muscle mass, and it can start occurring in people as young as 30. The reduction in muscle mass will continue as we age, with up to half of someone’s total muscle mass being lost by the time they’re in their 70’s.
While this naturally occurs in every person as they age, this doesn’t mean we can’t do anything to address it. Exercise has been shown to slow down and even reverse the effects of sarcopenia with ageing, with the most benefit being seen with strength/resistance training. While this form of exercise is commonly done in the gym with weights and machines, it can also be done in pilates and group exercise classes, home workouts using resistance bands and even your own body weight. By challenging the strength of our muscles in our exercise, we send a message to the body to retain the muscle that we do have and even build more new muscle.
Osteoporosis/osteopenia (reduced bone density)
Osteoporosis refers to a loss in bone density, leading bones to be more susceptible to serious fractures if the person was to trip or fall. Osteoporosis is another condition that becomes more prevalent as we age and becomes increasingly worse with inactivity.
Strength training along with high impact loading exercises (such as running and jumping) have been shown to be effective treatments for osteoporosis, stimulating new bone growth and making sure the bone that we do have left is maintained. These forms of exercise place increased stress on the bones which signals the receptors in our body that new bone is needed to cope with this level of stress, resulting in new bone being formed.
A study looking at an 18 month strength training program on office workers showed a 3-6% increase in bone mineral density in their lower backs after the intervention, with most of the benefit being seen within the first 5 months of the treatment.
Another natural event that occurs for women as they age is menopause. Usually occurring after the age of 45, this natural decline in oestrogen levels is associated with an increase in visceral fat mass, alongside decreases in muscle mass, bone density and strength. This places postmenopausal women at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis and sarcopenia, as well as other metabolic conditions associated with higher visceral fat levels such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Fortunately, strength training can be used as a tool to combat the effects of menopause and address some of the skeletal changes that are present during this time. In postmenopausal women, it has been shown that increasing hand grip strength resulted in an increase in bone density in the radius (forearm bone), and that increases in strength of muscles found in the back resulted in an increase in bone density of the lumbar spine (lower back).
Alongside these common conditions that are present during the ageing process, strength training has also shown numerous benefits in addressing other conditions that may be present with older age. Conditions such as dementia, osteoarthritis, diabetes and mental health conditions have all been seen to benefit from undergoing some form of strength training.