Updated: Jun 30, 2022
With all the health research and health magazines out there, this topic -- strength training for 60+ age group -- is relatively new. Strength training is important for any age group, but in my opinion, it's especially important for my 60+ friends. Here's why.
Physiology of Aging
As we age, everyone -- yes, every single one of us -- will experience some level of sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is defined as an age-related loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), "Beginning as early as the 4th decade of life, evidence suggests that skeletal muscle mass and skeletal muscle strength decline in a linear fashion, with up to 50% of mass being lost by the 8th decade of life."
Why does this happen? Time is not our friend here: we have increased muscle damage due to inflammation; our muscles have a decreased ability for protein synthesis; and our body's ability to replenish glycogen decreases.
The Good News
Boy, that paragraph nearly gave me a panic attack! But there's hope. Great benefits can result from strength training at any age, such as...
increased bone mineral density (can prevent and even reverse osteoporosis)
higher metabolism (which naturally slows as we age)
better coordination and balance (thus, helps prevent falls)
improved hormone regulation and helps the body become more efficient at producing the hormones for muscle building
growth of new neurons in the brain (may be connected to prevention of dementia)
Here's some more staggering data related to strength training. According to the National Health Interview Survey conducted through the NIH, individuals who engaged in resistance training at least 2x/week...
had 46% lower odds of dying for any reason compared to those who did not engage in resistance training
had 41% lower odds of cardiac death
had 20% lower risk of dying from cancer
Because sarcopenia is a concern for 60+ exercisers, the goal should be hypertrophy (muscle building). Now, don't worry! Unless you spend 3 hours a day strength training, you won't look like a bodybuilder. (And if you do want to look like a body builder, double the suggested time strength training time, see below.)
So what counts as strength training? Any kind of resistance -- bands, weight machines, dumbbells, barbells, stability ball, medicine ball, own body weight -- counts as strength training.
In my opinion, this is the ideal formula for the 60+ exercisers:
Perform 8-15 reps of a particular exercise
Complete 1-2 sets
Rest 15-90s between sets
Include isometrics (holding the pose for a few seconds)
The key with any strength training regimen is to feel pretty maxed out when you finish the rep count. In other words, if you perform 15 reps of a particular exercise and feel like you could have done 20, then increase the weight so that you get close to maxing out at 12 or 15 reps.
If you're just starting out, keep it on the easier/lighter side (15 reps, 1 set, rest 90s) for about 6-8 weeks, then progress. Start with 2x/week at 20-30min sessions, then progress to 3x/week.
And don't forget to include isometrics! Isometrics help strengthen the tendons and help create healthier joints. Just be careful if you have high blood pressure: doing isometrics can elevate the HR.
Strategies for Training Recovery
There's a saying among strength training enthusiasts: "You don't build muscle in the gym; you build muscle during recovery."
This is true on every level. Recovery is the key to muscle gains, specifically during sleep. For the 60+ exercisers, it's important to take a holistic approach. Instead of taking days off (passive recovery), opt instead for active recovery. This will help reduce inflammation, foster nutrient absorption, and improve efficiency of muscle building. Post-exercise nutrition is also key -- be sure to consume 3:1 ratio of carbs:protein within 30 minutes of a strength training session. Make sure you're getting enough protein (read more here) and sleep. Oh, and sign up for a massage! Massage is great recovery for everyone, but especially for the 60+ exercisers.
A Bit of Inspiration
There's inspiration from our 60+ friends all around us: ultra-marathoners in their 60's, chair aerobics classes for 80+ exercisers, golfers in their 90's, centenarian walkers and cyclists...it's motivating and inspiring and we can stay active well into our 90's or 100's. And the key to staying active? Strength training.
If you're interested in working with me, I'd love to help you out! I do 1-1 virtual personal training, training plans, and health and nutrition coaching. Feel free to schedule a free 15-minute consultation to learn more!