The secret to a long life may be a barbell. A great opening sentence—and I will explain as we proceed. I have written from time to time about the advantages of weight training for seniors. These statements have come from studies that I have read, my experience with senior trainees, and my own personal experience. At the risk of repeating myself and of preaching to the choir, I want to discuss some of the material I previously discussed, as well as a trove of new material that excites me about the advantages of weight training for seniors.
As I previously discussed, we begin to lose muscle in our third decade, and bone density in our fourth decade. These eventualities can be prevented by weight training. The loss of bone density and muscle mass contributes to older frailty. The loss of bone density in post-menopausal women who are not on hormone therapy is especially concerning. Although both men and women decline in bone density, the rate is faster for women. The really good news is that weight training can not only prevent these events but also can restore both muscle mass and bone density after they have occurred. An alarmingly sad statistic is that one-half of all people over 65 who break a hip die within two years. There is no reason for this! Proper rehab and weight training would prevent this.
I am too old to start. Bullsh*t! It is never too late to start. Regardless of previous conditioning levels, seniors’ ability to create new muscle is the same as experienced lifters’. Studies show that masters athletes do not demonstrate a greater ability to add muscle when compared with a beginner who is unaccustomed to resistance training. So, if I started to train a senior without weight training experience, he could add muscle at the same rate as me, and I’ve been lifting since 1957. Beginning resistance training at any age will delay or eliminate frailty and muscle weakness. Some form of a regular routine is essential. I began training a friend when he was 79. He was a former excellent athlete who had been sedentary for a long time. He could barely walk. Now at 88, he continues to train three times a week. He increases his weights regularly, continues to get stronger, and plays golf. It is indeed never too late to begin!
Older people (think 80s), regardless of training history, can build muscle mass. In a long-term study of multiple individuals, some of whom died during the study, and not all of whom trained with weights, those in the study who did train with weights were 46% less likely to die. A more realistic number is that lifting weights was linked to a 17% reduced risk of death. In any event, it is indeed the barbell that is the secret to life. If you are over 65 and are inclined to begin, it would be a good idea to hire a trainer for a time to work around creaky knees and shoulders, as well as tight hips.
What about (yuk) cardio? A recent Wake Forest study showed that weight training was more effective for overweight seniors than cardio was. The study involved 249 adults and was active for 18 months. The study divided the individuals into three groups. One group was diet only, another was diet and cardio, and the third was diet and weight training. All three groups lost weight. However, the diet-only group and the diet- and- cardio group also lost significant muscle mass. The diet and weight training group lost weight and gained muscle mass. In other words, it was the stronger and healthier group.
Weight training for seniors is not only good for the body but also it is good for the mind. Weight training has proved to relieve stress, depression, and feelings of sadness. A woman whom I have been training reports feeling less stressed and has greatly improved her depression. Australian research has demonstrated that weight training can protect parts of the brain that are vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease. The Neurolmage: Clinic journal reported that strength training slowed or halted degeneration in the hippocampus and subregions of the brain. The study involved 100 participants, and the results were not vague; rather, they were clear and obvious. Weight training releases a myriad of chemicals that are good for the brain and body. Repetitive weight training electrically stimulates the memory parts of the hippocampus. Weight training needs to become a standard part of dementia risk reduction strategies. Even though I’ve lifted since 1957, I still can’t remember names. I can remember everything about the person but not the name. I also cannot remember a word I know in a conversation. I usually remember it 10 minutes after the conversation is over.
So, there you have it. We meatheads have known for years that weight training is good for you. The medical/scientific community is finally coming around and is doing studies to prove what we have known all along: that weight training is good for you both physically and mentally. It’s about damn time. I thought it would never come around. Indeed, it is still new to many doctors. But at long last, it is finally becoming an accepted medical practice in the U. S. that weight training is beneficial, especially for seniors. I know that I am preaching to the choir. Anyone reading this article is already predisposed to weight training. My request is for you to help me to convey this information to my peers. Whether they are your peers, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, or friends, please make them aware of the benefits of weight training. By doing so, you will help to keep them around longer.