Weight Training Fights Muscle Loss and Impacts Brain Health

Losing muscle mass is a fact of aging. People over 50 who are sedentary can lose almost half a pound of muscle in a year! Losing muscle can ultimately lead to a loss of mobility, which in turn can lead to a loss of independence. Many older adults have never adopted an exercise routine that includes weight training or resistance exercises. Members of a generation having grown up with Jack Lalane, who was a very early and passionate advocate of strength training, still may be hesitant to give such a program a try.Exer4_DSC0060_1.jpg

If keeping your mobility is not enough to inspire you, it appears that lifting a few weights or using resistance machines may have an impact on brain function. Most of us have heard that aerobic exercise has a role in improving brain function. The Brain Research Center at the University of British Columbia has been studying cognitive functioning with older women who have lifted weights and compared the results to those in toning classes. The results are unpublished but encouraging. The principal investigator, Teresa Liu-Ambrose quoted in an article by Gretchen Reynolds in the New York Times Magazine, speculates that in addition to improving blood flow to the brain, weight and resistance training requires an upsurge in brain usage. Such exercise requires you to think about form and technique, far more so than if running or walking. 

Those who start a weight-training program can see results quickly. A research team with the University of Michigan compiled data from numerous reports and found that older adults gain an average of 2.42 pounds of lean body mass after strength training for as little as 20 weeks. The report was published by the American College of Sports Medicine and reported in Medical News Today.

Another benefit of strength training is that it can add some variety into an exercise routine. In case you think that weight training requires heavy dumbbells or a trip to the gym, muscles can be worked well with lighter weights, weighted balls and rubber resistance bands. Weight training techniques are incorporated in many of our group exercise programs, even those done while seated. These techniques can also be easily incorporated into exercise programs for those who have some mobility limitations. 

It is never too late to get started. People have successfully started strength training in their 70s, 80s and even older.

Interested?

  • Check with your physician as you would before starting any exercise program.
  • If you want to start a program on your own at home, I suggest you educate yourself on good technique. The book Growing Stronger: Strength Training for Older Adults, published by Tufts University is very comprehensive. You can find it on the Center for Disease Control website, along with loads of tips.