Why you should strength train (no matter your age)

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I started studying exercise science in 2010. I attended a night course on Improving Sports Performance while I finished my final year of high school. In hindsight I was very fortunate – the course was led by a Performance Coach who’d just moved to New Zealand after over a decade of working with English Premier League football teams. And I was in a class of only two students!

The course has just launched, and I was so desperately hungry for knowledge as youth athlete (hoping to improve my own performance and mitigate injury risk).

I was hugely impressed by not only training’s ability to improve sport performance, but the health benefits of exercise. I became a little obsessive. And I think my family pretty soon got quite sick of my well-intentioned efforts to overhaul everyone’s lifestyles so that we could all live better and longer!

After a while (and with the help of some great mentors at the University of Otago during my undergraduate degrees) I realised that I couldn’t help anyone that didn’t want help. So over the years, I’ve bitten my tongue in many a social situation (if I had a dollar for every time I was at a dinner and heard nonsensical “facts” about human movement and exercise physiology from those who’ve never even studied so much as personal training…), and refrained from giving advice unless specifically asked.

But especially in the last few years, I’ve felt a rising urgency to at least start sharing the facts. I see so many people losing their ability to move well as they age, and perhaps not even realising the hugely powerful effects that exercise has to help manage (and in some cases, even reverse) age-related decline in almost all of the bodily systems.

So I won’t tell you what to do anymore (unless you hire me!). But I will share why exercise is so vital to living a longer, better life.

Why should I do strength training?

Strength training improves athletic performance

If you’re an athlete, I probably don’t need to convince you to strength train (and if you’re not an athlete – we’ll get to that!).

Greater strength can improve:

  • Jump height
  • Sprinting
  • Change of direction abilities

And is associated with

  • Decreased injury risk

But what If I’m not an athlete?

As we age, we lose muscle mass and strength. The reported rate of decline varies in the literature, but is around 3–8% muscle mass per decade after age 30.

This decline is even more rapid after age 60. This age-related muscle loss is called sarcopenia.

Why does this matter?

Lower muscle mass and strength is associated with increased risk of death from all causes. And conversely, higher strength is associated with a lower risk of death.

The best way to combat sarcopenia is to strength train.

After age 50, the rate of strength loss increases to over 10% per decade. But in studies on heavy resistance training in 65-75 year old men & women, strength gains of more than 30% 1RM were made within the first 2 months of strength training.

This has been described as essentially reversing 2 decades of strength loss. Similar effects have been seen on muscle mass.

It’s never too late to start!

Strength training also has numerous other benefits

Strength training has been shown to:

  • Improve insulin sensitivity
  • Decrease injury risk
  • Improve range of motion
  • Prevent and manage type 2 diabetes
  • Improve balance
  • Help with activities of daily living and the ability to live independently
  • Improve cognition
  • Increase bone density and reduce osteoporosis risk
  • Reduce pain and improve function in multiple forms of arthritis
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce pain in general
  • And (not to be too obvious)… improve strength!

This isn’t even an exhaustive list. Strength training is THAT powerful.

Remember, it’s never too late to start!

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