Health in later life involves more than just physical health — social and mental wellbeing are equally as important. That’s why it’s a good idea to include a holistic view of exercise for the best quality of life as you age.
From around the age of 30, SBS News reports that muscle mass begins to deteriorate by up to 5 percent every year. When this happens, we find it harder to carry out our everyday activities. Although it’s normal for the wear and tear of life to take a toll on our bodies, it’s possible to slow down the process through changes to diet and exercise. With the right type of exercise, you may even regain your lost strength and performance.
Why strength training is great for people over 40
Many people still carry the fear that lifting weights leads to a body builder’s physique, which is a myth. Lifting weights actually burns fat and tones the body, and unless you follow an extreme diet and fitness routine, it’s hard to end up with bulky muscles. However, the perception that it’s not an activity for older people needs to be turned on its head.
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Chris Canavan and Joe Catena are personal trainers at Snap Fitness. Chris estimates that just over 50% of their membership base is over 40 years old, but finds many of them worry that training is for the young. “A lot of them have the mentality that they're too old to change, which is not the case. It's just a matter of getting in the gym and experiencing it, and then after a couple of times they've been in here, it becomes more natural,” says Joe.
Chris elaborates: “When you get older, your body breaks down and you get common colds, you get more injuries, arthritis. That's where strength training comes in. It strengthens up the whole body, that's probably the best way of putting it. It strengthens the whole body so you can fight off the illnesses.”
‘Fighting off illnesses’ applies to more than the common cold. A Sydney Morning Herald news article reports that strength training has been proven to make us healthier, even helping with the prevention of serious diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and even cancer. With these results, it’s even more important for older Australians to start using weight-based training to maintain their physical abilities.
“With the older age group, the strength training is about maintaining the quality of life, maintaining the muscles that are already there,’ says Chris.
In fact, strength training to maintain a healthy lifestyle is so beneficial that the Department of Health has made it a recommended activity, saying that everyone should include ‘muscle strengthening activities on at least 2 days each week’ for adults up to 64 years, and two to three times a week for anyone older.
What is strength training
Strength training, also known as resistance training, is about using something heavy to make the muscle overcome the weight and perform the activity. You can use free weights (like dumbbells), weight machines, resistance bands and bodyweight exercises.
For a muscle to build up, it has to break down slightly during a strength training session. It repairs after a day or so, and then it becomes stronger than before. Repeat this regularly and you’ll see other health benefits like better muscle tone, better muscle-to-fat ratio, increase stamina, and better mobility.
How to start your strength training
Strength training might seem daunting, but there are a lot of ways to start:
- At the gym: Your local gym will hold a lot of different types of weights, and should have a trainer on site who can help you.
- At home with weights: If you have access to kettlebells, a great beginner exercise is kettlebell swings.
- At home without weights: If you don’t have any weights around, you can start with beginner bodyweight exercises like sumo squats and modified burpees.
- Anytime, anywhere: Carrying grocery bags, walking up and down the stairs and digging in the garden are all forms of strength training.
Chris advises that the one thing to remember is, “Don't overdo it. Exercise doesn't happen overnight, it takes time so ease into it.”