As we get older, it’s vital to look after our physical health and function. Regular weightlifting is a top-notch way to achieve this goal along with flexibility and cardio exercise. Sadly, most people reckon weightlifting is only for young people, but the benefits for older folks should be spruiked more.
In this article, we break down the many and significant reasons why weightlifting is so crucial for this mob, with evidence-based recommendations and citations for how a person over the age of 50 should start weightlifting with resistance training.
The Benefits of Weightlifting for People Over the Age of 50
- Muscle Preservation: A natural loss of muscle mass, known as sarcopenia, begins above the age of 30. Resistance training slows down this process by promoting muscle protein synthesis, which is the process of signalling the body to maintain and build muscle. A study by Fiatarone et al. (1994) demonstrated that progressive resistance training increased muscle strength, size, and functional capabilities among frail elderly individuals. This process will help maintain physical independence and mobility.
- Increased Metabolism: Muscle tissue burns more calories than fat, so weightlifting helps people over the age of 50 boost their metabolism and keep a healthy weight. Resistance training’s role in improving muscle mass has beneficial implications for metabolism. In a study by Hunter et al. (2008), resistance training led to increases in lean body mass and resting metabolic rate among older men and women, highlighting its potential for weight management.
- Bone Health: Resistance training is a weight-bearing activity that has been shown to increase bone mineral density – this is especially important for people looking to prevent and/or minimise the risk of osteoporosis and fractures from falls. A comprehensive meta-analysis by Kemmler et al. (2010) confirmed that progressive resistance training increased bone mineral density at various skeletal sites among postmenopausal women.
- Joint Health: Correct technique and form will help you improve the strength and durability of joints. In turn, this will help with support, balance and reduce chances of injury. A randomised controlled trial by Rikli and Jones (1999) demonstrated that a 16-week resistance training program improved functional performance and reduced the risk of falls among older adults.
- Mental Health: Many studies have shown support for regular resistance training to improve mental health and well-being by increasing the release of endorphins, which alleviates stress, anxiety and depression.
- Chronic Disease: Resistance training has been shown to prevent type 2 diabetes by increasing muscle mass, lowering fat and improving insulin sensitivity. This occurs by firstly increasing blood sugar levels and therefore helping regulate blood glucose levels. Shiroma et al (2017) found that higher levels of resistance training were associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes among middle-aged and older women.
The warm-up before starting to lift weights is a crucial preparatory phase that involves increasing blood flow, enhancing muscle function, improving joint flexibility, activating the nervous system and getting mentally ready.
It’s often tempting to skip the warm-up phase and jump into your workout, but this isn’t the smartest option, especially as people over the age of 50 are more prone to injury than others. Let’s break down some of the benefits of warming up in more detail
- Increased Blood Flow: Engaging in some cardio exercises during a warm-up phase boosts blood circulation. This as a result increases oxygenated blood and nutrients to your muscles, making your exercise more efficient. Improved oxygen supply also helps your cardiovascular system performance as the exercise intensity increases.
- Enhanced Muscle Function : As your heart rate increases throughout the warm-up, your muscles receive more oxygen, which helps in optimising muscle function. The increased blood flow relaxes muscle stiffness and resistance, helping you perform better. This also minimises the possibility of muscle strains.
- Improved Joint Flexibility and Range of Motion: A well-designed warm-up should mimic some of the exercises and drills while taking your body through a full range of motion. This process will help increase synovial fluid production and mobility, and in doing so reduce your chance of injury as your body will be better prepared for various body movements.
- Activation of Nervous System: Our body is made up of the nervous system, which is responsible for recruiting your muscle fibres, but when we’re at rest our nervous system is not working too hard or overly alert. However, as we warm up and catecholamines get released, our central nervous system begins to activate nerve impulses and therefore muscles Racinais et al 2017.
- Reduced Risk of Injury : Possibly the most beneficial aspect of an effective warm-up is the fact that the more warmed up and warm we are, the lower the chances of tears, strains or other injuries. We suggest a gradual, slow and deliberate process to prepare for movement Mayer et al 2011.
How often should I train if I’m over the age of 50?
The recommended amount of training for an individual over the age of 50 is 2-3 sessions per week, but some people can train more often. Training 2 to 3 times per week will provide enough time to recover from the previous training session and allow muscle growth and mental recuperation. These recommendations are based on many academic sources.
The most beneficial exercises for individuals over the age of 50 are compound lifts, which recruit the most amount of muscle. Examples of these include squats, deadlifts, shoulder press, push-ups and core.
Isolation exercises also play an important role in making sure all muscles are being targeted and imbalances are being improved.
Intensity and Volume
Beginners should start with lighter weights and learn the correct form, as this is when your body will be most sensitive to learning the correct technique and reaping the benefits of starting resistance training.
Each session should range between 6-10 sets per week and 8-12 repetitions per set. The rep and set range will provide a sufficient balance between strength training and muscle growth .
In terms of time spent in the gym, it will ultimately depend on how efficient an individual is in the gym. Our small group training sessions last up to 45 minutes of moderate intensity.
Should I start training if I have pain in my joints?
Training with joint pain can be a bit of a drongo, but it can also be beneficial if you do it with caution and proper modifications. It’s important to listen to your body and work around the dodgy joint to avoid more pain or injury. Here’s why it can be good to keep training with joint pain, and some things to consider.
Exercising when you’re crook can help improve blood flow to stiff tendons and ligaments, but you have to make sure whatever exercise you’re doing doesn’t make your injury worse.
If your upper body is injured, you might be able to use the other arm or just focus on the lower body. You’ll also be able to do most cardio exercises like cycling, running or assault bike.
If your lower body is injured, you tend to be more limited in what you can do, but you can still do most upper body resistance exercises.
- Consultation: Before someone with joint pain or issues starts training, they should have a yarn with an Exercise Physiologist who can give them professional advice on what are the best exercise options and maybe help with rehab.
- Progression: Starting weightlifting will help you create a baseline and will help you improve through the lens of rehab.
- Mental Health: A lot of people reckon being injured and not being able to train affects their mental health. But if you’re able to lift weights to any extent, this helps people boost their mental health even if they can’t train or exercise as much as they’d like.
- Fiatarone MA, O’Neill EF, Ryan ND, Clements KM, Solares GR, Nelson ME, Roberts SB, Kehayias JJ, Lipsitz LA, Evans WJ. Exercise training and nutritional supplementation for physical frailty in very elderly people. N Engl J Med. 1994 Jun 23;330(25):1769-75. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199406233302501. PMID: 8190152.
- Hunter G. R., Byrne N. M., Sirikul B., Fernandez J. R., Zuckerman P. A., Darnell B. E., & Gower B. A. (2008). Resistance training conserves fat-free mass and resting energy expenditure following weight loss. Obesity, 16(5), 1045–1051. doi: 10.1038/oby.2008.38.
- Kemmler W, von Stengel S, Engelke K, Häberle L, Kalender WA. Exercise effects on bone mineral density, falls, coronary risk factors, and health care costs in older women: the randomised controlled senior fitness and prevention (SEFIP) study. Arch Intern Med. 2010 Jan 25;170(2):179-85. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2009.499. PMID: 20101013.
- Jones CJ, Rikli RE, Beam WC. A 30-s chair-stand test as a measure of lower body strength in community-residing older adults. Res Q Exerc Sport. 1999 Jun;70(2):113-9. doi: 10.1080/02701367.1999.10608028. PMID: 10380242.
- Shiroma EJ, Cook NR, Manson JE, Moorthy MV, Buring JE, Rimm EB, Lee IM. Strength Training and the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2017 Jan;49(1):40-46. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001063. PMID: 27580152; PMCID: PMC5161704.
- Racinais S, Cocking S, Périard JD. Sports and environmental temperature: From warming-up to heating-up. Temperature (Austin). 2017 Aug 4;4(3):227-257. doi: 10.1080/23328940.2017.1356427. PMID: 28944269; PMCID: PMC5605167.
- Mayer F, Scharhag-Rosenberger F, Carlsohn A, Cassel M, Müller S, Scharhag J. The intensity and effects of strength training in the elderly mob (group of people). Dtsch Arztebl Int (German Medical Journal International). 2011 May;108(21):359-64 (pages). doi: 10.3238/arztebl (digital object identifier).2011 (year).0359 (article number). Epub (electronic publication) 2011 May 27 (date of publication online). PMID: 21691559; PMCID: PMC3117172 (PubMed identifiers).
- Schoenfeld BJ, Grgic J, Van Every DW, Plotkin DL (authors). Loading Recommendations for Muscle Strength (the ability to exert force), Hypertrophy (the increase in muscle size), and Local Endurance (the ability to sustain repeated contractions): A Re-Examination of the Repetition Continuum (the range of repetitions performed in a set of exercise). Sports (Basel) (journal title). 2021 Feb 22 (date of publication);9(2):32 (volume and page number). doi: 10.3390/sports9020032 (digital object identifier). PMID: 33671664; PMCID: PMC7927075 (PubMed identifiers).
At Movement District, we’re mad keen on promoting a healthy, active lifestyle for all ages. Our article, “The Importance of Weightlifting for People Over 50,” provides evidence-based insights and practical tips for embracing fitness, even with joint pain. We reckon staying active is the way to go, and this article reflects our commitment to offering accurate, up-to-date information. We encourage having a yarn with healthcare professionals and certified trainers when starting a fitness journey. With guidance and dedication, individuals of all ages can enjoy the benefits of exercise. Join us at Movement District in pursuing a stronger, healthier life.