Aging with strength and weightlifting

There may not be a fountain of youth feeding Lake Washington, but you can add years to your life with muscles. Resistance training, or weightlifting, has great benefits for us as we age. You can feel great and flex your age defying biceps long into your golden years with the right training.

The unfortunate reality is that older adults who do not perform regular resistance training lose 5-10 percent of muscle mass per decade after age 50. Bone loss of 10-30 percent and a reduced metabolic rate of 2-3 percent per decade is also expected. Metabolic rate refers to the number of calories your body uses at rest. Even the youngsters in their 30’s lose 3-8 percent of their muscle mass per decade if they don’t perform resistance training.

Obesity, type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease are all risk factors with a slowing metabolic rate. Untrained muscle uses five calories per pound of muscle per day compared to nine or more calories for trained muscles. Loss of muscle directly decreases metabolic rate and increases fat gain. In the US, 80 percent of men and 20 percent of women over age 60 are overweight or obese. Risk of falling and associated injuries is also related to loss of muscle.

Resistance training in older adults have been shown to significantly increase lean muscle mass and resting energy expenditure. The increased energy use leads to a reduction in body fat. Reduced blood pressure, increased bone density and prevention and management of type-2 diabetes are added benefits of training.

Before starting on a resistance training program check with your physician. If it has been a year or more since you have been on a regular training program it may be helpful to consult with an experienced fitness professional. Your trainer will interview you and provide an intake questionnaire to ask about current or previous health related issues including cardiac history and injuries.

Research has shown benefits from two to three nonconsecutive days of resistance training. Begin with one set of each exercise and progress to more sets once your body feels comfortable. Allow two to three minutes of recovery between sets so your muscles can refuel. Ten to 15 repetitions of each exercise is a good place to start. Fewer repetitions can be performed when lifting heavier loads.

Picking the correct weight to start with can be a challenge. When in doubt, start with a low weight that you can easily control for 15 repetitions. To prevent injury, it’s safer to lift a lighter weight. A personal trainer can assist you in estimating your one repetition maximum for many exercises. Learning this will allow you to be more precise about your exercise progressions, although it shouldn’t be a barrier to getting started on your own.

As you get stronger and all repetitions can be completed with correct technique, increase resistance by 5 percent. Selecting multiple-joint exercises, such as a dumbbell shoulder press or row will activate many muscles at a time. If you are unaccustomed to performing this type of weight lifting seek out guidance. Exercise machines found in many gyms tend to focus on single-joint exercises. Maintain continuous breathing throughout each repetition, generally exhaling during the lifting actions and inhaling during the lowering actions.

Positive changes can occur within days of starting a resistance training program. Significant changes will occur with six to 12 weeks of two to three time per week training. Seek out a health and fitness professional who has experience working with your age group. Experienced providers can be found all around our neighborhoods and include the professionals at MoveMend, Denali Fitness and Fitness Together. The fountain of youth is in all of us, we just need to tap into it with resistance training.

AARON SHAW is an Occupational Therapist, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and founder of MoveMend in Madison Valley. Contact him at 206-641-7733 or visit