Do we stop exercising because we get old, or do we get old because we stop exercising?
As we get older, we tend to change the way we exercise. Many of us think that we need to reduce the intensity to protect our older bodies. Some of us start walking or swimming, because it appears easier and safer. Easier? Sure. Safer? Maybe. Better? Not really.
Whether or not because of age, social norms suggest that we ask our bodies to do less as we get older.
In fact, we should be doing more, and in particular, lifting more. If one piece of advice can be given to help us get older slower, it’s to “lift heavy stuff”. Here are some reasons why:
It reverses the effect of sarcopenia and its side effects,
Helps to fight osteoporosis,
Helps to lose fat and optimise body composition,
It makes you younger!
There is a reduced risk of death.
If you’d like to know more, read on. If you’re ready to start lifting, click here.
Reversing the effect of sarcopenia and its side effects.
Sarcopenia is the term given to a natural, age-related loss of muscle and it can have a significant impact on our function as we get older. As we lose muscle, and therefore strength, we tend to be less able to carry out general Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), like carrying shopping, lifting things in the garden, climbing stairs etc. As we do fewer ADLs, we then lose more muscle because we are asking the muscles to do even less, and so a cycle starts.
This reduced ability can affect recreation as well. Sports like golf and tennis, which require mobility, strength and power to play, become difficult and even painful as the body can’t withstand the demands. Often, people stop playing, but with weight training you may not have to.
As we get older, our risk of falling increases. The loss of muscle and strength also makes us more susceptible to fractures that go along with those falls. Weight training helps to build muscle and strength and avoid these issues. Choosing exercises that improve balance as well as strength can also reduce risk of falling. “Use it or lose it” also applies to balance.
Lifting weights places more load on your bones. More load on your bones means greater need for stronger bones, so the body adapts by increasing bone density. With the increased risk of falls as we get older, reduced bone density also increases a risk of fracture with a fall. It’s a situation that can be avoided… by lifting weights.
Body composition/Fat Loss.
Contrary to what you might think, aerobic exercise like walking, running, cycling and swimming are not necessarily the best forms of exercise to help lose a bit of weight. Lifting weights, among other things, increases our metabolic rate by increasing the amount of muscle that the body is using. Imagine the body being a car. The bigger the engine, the more fuel we burn and lifting weights helps to increase the size of the engine. The effect of this tends to be that we become better at burning fat.
Now here’s where it gets interesting…
It makes you younger.
Mitochondria, put simply, are the elements in cells in our muscles that deliver energy. Much of how the body works depends on the mitochondria working well. So, when the function of mitochondria is poor, there are many negative effects on the body, one of which is that it speeds up the ageing process. Recent research has shown that lifting weights helped to reverse the mitochondrial effects of nearly 40 years of ageing, as well as a number of other genes associated with ageing. So, lifting weights makes you younger!
Telomeres are found at the end of our DNA chain and there is a belief that there is a link between ageing and these telomeres getting shorter. It has been found that the telomere length in people who lift weights regularly is longer than in people who do not. Another reason that lifting weights may help to keep you younger!
There is a reduced risk of death!
A recent study has shown that older adults who met guidelines of doing weights twice a week showed lower odds of dying from certain preventable diseases. Yes, you read correctly, a study in the USA found that people who did weight training twice a week had 46% chance of living longer than those who did not (known as "all cause mortality”). That shouldn’t be interpreted as doing weights may make you live forever, but the evidence seems to be compelling about the numerous benefits of lifting weights.
There are many more reasons why lifting weights is important to do as we age, but the reasons listed here are some of the more important ones. It allows us to do more and maintain our muscle. It keeps us young and may help us to live longer. So, if you’ve made the decision to do exercise, try to get into the gym, or get some basic equipment for home, or even work out a program that doesn’t use equipment, rather than just going for a walk or swim.