Welcome back! For this post, we want to address the final common concern we laid out that people have regarding strength training:
4) “I’m way too old to lift weights.”
Alright, this is a big one. But now that you have learned how comparatively safe strength training is versus other common activities, we should be able to navigate through this topic more effectively.
First, let’s take a look at the potential
consequences of NOT strength training as you age.
(And as always, none of the information provided here should be considered medical advice. It is for informational/entertainment purposes only. Always consult your doctor for medical advice or before starting a new exercise or nutrition program)
Sarcopenia: Sarcopenia is, in simple terms, muscle loss with aging. According to WebMD, “physically inactive people can lose as much as 3% to 5% of their muscle mass each decade after age 30.” Sarcopenia severity is a major factor of frailty in the elderly and can significantly increase risk of fracture injuries in older populations.¹
Increased total and intra-abdominal fat: Lack of exercise coupled with loss of muscle mass can quickly snowball into significant weight gain. Common sense tells us that lack of physical activity without a rigidly maintained diet almost certainly leads to increased body fat levels. Significant weight gain poses its own risks related to obesity and cardiovascular disease which can ultimately lead to debilitating health complications and even early death.²
Decreased bone mineral density: Resistance strength training loads the skeletal structures of the human body in such a way that, given adequate nutritional and sleep conditions, bone mineral density can increase as an adaptation to those loads placed on the body. Without resistance training, the body has no reason to adapt by increasing bone mineral density and as a result bone mineral density will decrease significantly in most people as they age. This places those people affected at a greater risk of fracture and other impact related injuries in later stages of life.²
Excessive ear and nose hair, telling the same “glory-days” stories over and over again, yelling at local kids to get off your lawn, rocking-chair confinement, watching the weather channel, and slowly shriveling up and withering away into oblivion: Well, maybe not. But you should strength train regardless of your age. Let’s look at why.
To keep things simple, if you want to stay “mobile, agile, and hostile” (or just keep your independence and be able to keep up with your kids and grandkids) for as long as possible then you need to give your body a reason to develop and maintain adaptations that allow you to do so.
Your body is constantly changing, rebuilding, and adapting throughout your life. We are extremely resilient creatures as a whole and our bodies have the potential to readily adapt to the demands that we place on them. The problem isn’t that anyone is too old to strength train. The problem is that they decided that they were too old to do pretty much anything years ago and gave their bodies every reason to adapt to that attitude and corresponding level of sedentariness. Age doesn’t prevent you from training – your attitude toward your age and your health does.
The good news is that if you’re shifting uneasily in your seat because that sounds like you, you can still turn things around.
And it doesn’t mean you need to be doing full-depth, below parallel squats with 225 pounds tomorrow. That would be a very bad idea even for someone in their twenties if they are currently sedentary.
So where do you start?
Start out slow. If you have trouble simply standing up, start by standing up for a set amount of time a few times per day. Give your body a reason to adapt. Be willing to be a little uncomfortable. After you can stand for five to ten minutes at a time, move on to walking for a few minutes a few times per day. After you can walk for five to ten minutes, move on to sit/stand exercises (stand up, sit down, repeat).
How much would someone’s quality of life increase if they went from being confined to a chair to simply being able to stand up and walk around independently?
If you can’t sit down and stand up more than a couple of times in one go, try doing sets of half squats instead. Work to doing sets of three-quarter squats, then sitting down completely and standing up. Aim for sets of ten to twelve if you can, but start with as few as you need to per set. If you can only do a few at a time, try to do more sets of just a few reps per day.
For example, if you can only do four or five half squats at once before needing a break, try to do that five or six times per day for a total of about thirty reps. This would be similar to doing three sets of eight to ten reps.
There is almost always a movement you can do now that will help you work toward doing more difficult movements in the future. If you can’t lift any weight at all, work on just moving your body through the range of motion you are concerned with.
For example, if you are trying to strengthen your arms and shoulders but can’t lift anything over your head, try just moving your arms through that range of motion without any weight. If you can’t move through the full range of motion, move through as much of the range of motion as you can now and work to get better each day.
Consistently strength training throughout your life has the very real potential to delay or even slightly reverse the effects of the biological aging process and significantly increase quality of life for decades. But it works most effectively in a proactive sense versus being reactive to health issues.
Another stigma with strength training is the misconception that you need to be “strong” in the first place to strength train. That couldn’t be further from the truth.You don’t strength train because you are already strong, you strength train to GET strong.
They make some pretty darn light weights even if you can’t handle your own body weight. If you can lift a cup of coffee, you can strength train. If you can still physically move your body, you can probably strength train. And it is extremely likely that strength training will increase your quality of life.
You might be thinking “oh, but you don’t understand. My (knees, back, hips, neck, shoulders, etc) are just going and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Have you tried giving them a reason to stay? You might be surprised. Make sure to talk with your doctor before beginning any strength training program to discuss any risks that may be unique to your situation. But make sure you also discuss the risks of NOT strength training and getting stronger. If your doctor tells you not to strength train, ask them to explain why. Doctors are extremely smart people but it’s easy to forget that there are risks to NOT strength training that need to be weighed against any risks and benefits of you choosing to strength train.
Remember to start with an appropriate dose of stress if you do start strength training and seek guidance from someone knowledgeable that you trust if you are unsure of what that looks like for you specifically.
Still not convinced that older people can strength train? Here are some videos of some “chronologically advanced” old men and women lifting weights that would make that state champion football nephew of yours blush.
Sources: ¹ ”Sarcopenia With Aging.” WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/guide/sarcopenia-with-aging#1 ² Hurley, B.F. & Roth, S.M. “Sports Medicine” (2000) 30: 249. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200030040-00002