Weight lifting and stretching are useful at any age, but there are specific benefits for older adults.
With aging comes concerns about strength, balance, and mobility. But integrating resistance training and stretching into your routine can keep you feeling healthy and strong.
Not sure where to start? Read on for a primer on how aging affects your body and how movement can make a difference, plus a full-body workout and stretching routine that you can do at home.
How does aging impact our bodies?
Age may just be a number, but some physical changes do occur as we get older — and these can affect our health. They include:
Decreased range of motion
Notice that your shoulders, hips, or knees don’t move as well as they used to? As you age, your range of motion — the full movement potential of a joint — decreases due to changes in connective tissue, arthritis, loss of muscle mass, and more.
By how much?
In a study published in the Journal of Aging Research, researchers analyzed shoulder abduction and hip flexion flexibility in adults ages 55–86.
They found a decrease in flexibility of the shoulder and hip joints by approximately 6 degrees per decade across the study participants, but also noted that in generally healthy older adults, the age-related loss of flexibility does not significantly impact daily life (1Trusted SourceTrusted SourceTrusted Source).
Declining strength is another hallmark of aging.
Older research found that muscle mass decreases by approximately 3-8% per decade after age 30, and this rate increases after age 60 (2Trusted SourceTrusted SourceTrusted Source).
More current research found the rate of muscle atrophy was closer to 1% per year after age 50, which has an exponential (continually increasing) effect when considered over time (3).
This phenomenon is known as sarcopenia — a loss of muscle mass and function as we get older. This decrease in muscle mass comes from several factors, including:
declines in activity
an unbalanced diet that’s low in calories and protein
Sarcopenia is strongly related check here to falls and overall frailty, so it’s an important factor to address as you get older.
If your balance isn’t what it used to be, there’s an explanation for that as well.
You maintain your balance using:
your vestibular system (structures in the inner ear)
feedback from joints in the spine, ankles and knees
These systems send signals to your brain to help your body maintain its balance as you move about your day.
As you age, however, these signals aren’t communicated as effectively. Your eyesight gets worse, your cognitive abilities start to decline, and your joints become less mobile.
Although you may feel young at heart, aging affects you physically in many ways, including decreased range of motion, loss of strength, and loss of balance.
The importance of strength training as we age
One of the ways to combat physical age-related concerns — plus maintain range of motion, strength, and balance — is to incorporate consistent strength training into your weekly routine.
Strength training can benefit older adults by:
Increasing bone density. When you strength train, you’re putting stress on your bones from the movement and force patterns, which leads bone-forming cells to jump to work. This creates bone that is stronger and denser (4Trusted SourceTrusted SourceTrusted Source).
Increasing muscle mass. More muscle means more strength, better balance, and an increased metabolism. One study found that by implementing a training program, older adults were able to improve their muscle mass and muscle strength by 30% (3).
Enabling better balance and functionality. Having strong muscles contributes to better daily function. After all, activities like sitting down in a chair, reaching up to get something from a shelf, or even tying your shoes all require balance, flexibility, and strength. And for older adults in particular, these benefits translate into a reduced risk of falls or other catastrophic injuries (5).
Improving body composition. Maintaining muscle mass is important to decrease the chances of obesity, especially as we age (6).
Improving quality of life. Older adults who participate in a regular resistance training routine often see improvements in their psychosocial well-being (5).