Like it or not, a number of changes happen to our bodies as we age. They are a natural part of living life and include a combination of age-related structural, biochemical and physiological changes. These effects of ageing on the body mean that strength training activities become even more important as we get older. Keep reading to find out why.
What happens to our bodies when we age?
- We lose muscle mass & muscle strength (sarcopenia)
- We lose bone density (osteopenia)
- The heart and blood vessels thicken making it harder to pump around a sufficient amount of oxygen and glucose to our cells
- Our kidneys don’t function as well to carefully concentrate our urine and keep the levels of electrolytes and chemicals in our blood at an optimum level
- Our ability to metabolise glucose effectively reduces and we start to carry more body fat
- We lose brain mass and the speedy connections which send messages between cells start to slow down
All of the changes above can have huge consequences; some are inevitable with ageing, some have environmental and genetic risk factors which also play a role. The regression of our muscles and bones causes us to slow down and can lead to aches & pains. All this makes performing our normal daily activities such as walking, climbing stairs and household tasks more difficult.
This puts you at increased risk of falling over, and of serious injury such as fractures if you do. Ultimately, older adults with low muscle mass and bone density are at a higher risk of a poor quality of life, loss of independence and even an earlier death!
The levels of muscle mass and strength loss varies in different people. Generally, we are at our peak maximum physical capacity between 20-30 years old. Our muscle mass then starts to gradually decline until we are about 50 years old, after which the decline starts to happen more rapidly (some studies have shown a strength loss of 15% per decade after our 50’s!) The level of loss varies in different people because of a variety of factors including lifestyle, genetics and the presence of other conditions or diseases.
Hearing all of this can sound very scary. It can make the changes happening to our bodies in ageing seem beyond our control.
But… have hope!
Not all of these changes are inevitable. There is evidence to show that a large amount of the decline in muscle strength seen in ageing is due to inactivity and disuse. And, a growing number of studies are showing that these changes can actually be reversed!
We can therefore take ownership and control of our bodies in ageing. We can slow these changes down, we can reduce the loss of muscle and bone density and even improve it as we age.
Unfortunately, there is no ‘magic medication’, but in a way there is… it just involves a little more effort than taking a pill every morning. That being said, it is also actually more enjoyable and has many more benefits than just improving your muscle mass or bone density….
Why strength training is so important for older adults
There is very clear evidence for the benefits of strength training in older adults to improve muscle strength, mass and functioning, as well as increase bone density. Strength training induces muscle hypertrophy (growth), improves muscle mass and increases muscle strength.
It makes your muscles stronger, more powerful and keeps them doing their very important job in allowing you to do all the functional things you want to do in your life – Whether that be walking around pain free to go to the shops and see friends, looking after your children and grandchildren, going on long bikes rides and country walks, playing sports or even running marathons.
There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating the significant benefits of strength training for all age groups (improved muscle and bone health, improved body composition and fat loss, prevention of a huge number of chronic and preventable diseases, improved energy levels and mood). These benefits are increasingly important as we age.
Performed regularly, 2 or 3 times a week, strength training specifically in older adults has been shown to:
- Increase muscle mass
- Improve strength
- Increase bone density
- Improve quality of life
- Improve functional abilities
- Increase levels independence
- Reduce the risk of a number of age-related diseases (osteoporosis, heart disease, arthritis, type 2 diabetes)
- Improve sleep quality
- Decrease levels of depression and anxiety
The list goes on and on… So the real question is, when are you going to get started?