Strength training is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. As we age, lean muscle mass diminishes, while body fat rises. Strength training can help you build muscle, reduce body fat, and burn calories more efficiently. An exercise routine that combines cardiovascular activities, such as walking or swimming, with strength training can enhance both your physical and mental well-being.
What is strength training?
Strength training challenges your muscles by lifting a weight, pulling on a resistance band, or pushing against the floor or a wall. You can do strength training exercises with or without equipment, at a gym, fitness center, or at home.
Strength training equipment includes:
- Free weights, barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells
- Medicine balls
- Resistance bands
- Household objects like soup cans
- Weight machines
Strength training exercises that don’t require equipment include:
- Abdominal crunches
- Step exercises
Strength training guidelines
The American Heart Association recommends that adults perform strength training exercises two or three times a week for 20 to 30 minutes per session. In addition, try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week. Walking is a great way to get cardiovascular exercise.
If you have a chronic condition or haven’t been physically active recently, check with your doctor before starting a strength training program.
The health benefits of strength training
1. Build muscle and burn calories more efficiently.
Adults tend to lose muscle mass over time, especially if you’re inactive. The decrease in muscle often leads to weight gain. Consistent strength training can reverse muscle loss and help you build lean muscle tissue. It also increases the number of calories you burn at rest, known as your resting metabolic rate.
2. Strengthen bones and reduce the risk of fractures.
Bones also lose tissue and strength as we age. Strength training can boost your bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. In fact, the Bone Health & Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that adults perform strength training exercises to increase bone density and decrease the risk of fractures.
3. Maintain a healthy weight.
Consistent strength training workouts can help you lose weight and keep it off. Lean muscle tissue boosts your metabolism and burns more calories than fat tissue.
4. Lower your risk of heart disease.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America. According to the American Heart Association, strength training can reduce the risk of heart disease and heart attack. Regular exercise can also lower your blood pressure, bad cholesterol, and blood sugar levels.
5. Improve your balance and lower your risk of falls.
The ability to maintain our balance decreases as we age. In addition to building muscle, strength training can lower your risk of falls and injury by improving your balance and your range of motion and mobility.
6. Protect your joints and reduce the symptoms of arthritis.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, strength training can reduce arthritic pain, increase range of motion, and boost bone density—and it can decrease disability in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
7. Reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Getting the recommended amount of exercise, along with eating a healthy diet, can reduce your risk of developing diabetes. The American Diabetes Association points out that regular physical activity is an important part of managing diabetes or dealing with prediabetes.
8. Improve your mental health
Consistent strength training can help you feel more confident and resilient. By releasing naturally occurring feel-good chemicals called endorphins in your brain, strength training reduces stress and anxiety and improves your mood. Regular physical activity can also help improve mental skills, especially in older adults.
9. Enhance your quality of life.
By increasing your confidence and self-esteem—and improving the quality of your sleep—strength training keeps you energetic and healthy, so you can get more out of life.
Getting started with strength training
1. Warm up with a brisk walk. Cold muscles are prone to injury, so warm up by walking for five to 10 minutes.
2. Use proper technique to avoid injuries. If you’re new to strength training, work with a fitness expert to learn the correct form and technique.
3. Make slow, smooth movements. Count to five while lifting a weight, hold it, and then count to five while lowering it to the starting position.
4. Pay attention to your breath. Exhale as you lift, push, or pull. Inhale as you release.
5. Work the muscle to the point of fatigue. Perform about 12 to 15 repetitions of each strength training activity.
6. Slowly increase the weight or resistance. Everyone is different. The right amount of weight for someone else may not be the right weight for you. As you add weight, you should be able to do all the repetitions with good form. The targeted muscles should feel tired by the time you finish the set.
7. Listen to your body. If an exercise causes pain, stop immediately. Consider reducing the amount of weight or resting for a few days.
8. Stick with it. Try to work all of the major muscles in your body two or three times a week.
9. Cool down by stretching for five to 10 minutes.
10. Rest between sessions. Strength training strains muscle tissues, and muscles need time to repair. Give your muscles at least 48 hours to recover before your next session.
Over time, strength training can increase your lean muscle mass and reduce your body fat, which can boost your self-confidence and enhance your quality of life.
American Heart Association, 5 Benefits of Strength Training