For many people, an active lifestyle means engaging in 30-60 minutes of aerobic exercise most days. But while going for a walk, heading out for a run, swimming laps, putting miles on a bicycle, or participating in group cardio classes can improve your fitness in myriad ways, cardiovascular endurance is only half of the exercise-health equation.
The other half? Strength training, also known as resistance exercise. Here, our expert team at The Rehab Docs discusses the major health advantages of embracing a well-rounded fitness program that incorporates strength training sessions — especially as you get older.
Several important aspects of physical health — ranging from strength, power, and endurance to balance, coordination, and energy — are rooted in the body’s lean tissue, or muscle mass.
Typically, muscle mass and strength increase steadily from birth, reaching their peak by the time you turn 30. Unfortunately, lean muscle mass naturally diminishes with age: Starting in your 30s, you can expect to lose 3-8% of your lean tissue every decade. Declining muscle mass is directly related to:
Luckily, strength training is a simple and highly effective way to reverse age-related muscle loss, preserve or improve lean tissue mass, and protect your health in your 30s and beyond.
Strength training consists of various resistance exercises that force your muscles to adapt to progressively greater challenges to maintain or improve strength. You can perform strength training exercises without equipment, using your own body weight against gravity (push-ups, planks, bridges, lunges, squats), or you can use free weights, resistance tubing, or weight machines, among other options.
Strength training in adulthood offers many invaluable benefits. It can help you:
Lean tissue requires more energy to maintain itself compared to adipose tissue (fat). It even burns more fuel when it’s resting: 20 pounds of resting muscle tissue burns about 100 calories per day, while 20 pounds of resting fat tissue burns about 40 calories per day.
In one study, just 10 weeks of strength training resulted in a lean tissue increase of 3 pounds, a fat tissue reduction of 4 pounds, and a 7% boost in resting metabolic rate.
Age-related muscle loss is one of the primary drivers of age-related fat gain, primarily through a lowered metabolism. If you start strength training in early adulthood, you can preserve a higher percentage of metabolically active lean tissue that burns calories more efficiently.
When fewer extra calories are readily stored as fat, it’s a lot easier to maintain a lean frame and a healthy body weight. Even during middle age, when shifting hormone levels actively promote further lean tissue loss and fat gain, regular strength training sessions can give you the power to preserve a fitter, healthier body.
Aerobic exercise helps you sustain or improve cardiovascular endurance. Strength training, on the other hand, helps you preserve or increase your physical strength and power, both of which are foundational elements of mobility, balance, and coordination.
In addition to preserving powerful musculature, regular strength training helps build denser, healthier bones that are less vulnerable to osteoporosis. Resistance exercise also helps foster strong, stable, and well-lubricated joints that are less susceptible to motion-limiting injuries.
Making strength training a key element of your fitness plan reduces your risk of developing a chronic illness, and assists you in better managing any long-term health conditions you may already have. For example, it helps prevent or control diabetes by reducing deep abdominal (visceral) fat, decreasing blood sugar levels, and improving insulin sensitivity.
Regular resistance training protects and supports cardiovascular health by reducing high blood pressure levels, decreasing unhealthy LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and boosting healthy HDL cholesterol levels.
People who strength train throughout adulthood are more likely to remain fully active. In your 30s, 40s, and even 50s, this may translate to improved athletic performance when you engage in your favorite sport, or it may mean you can easily keep up with your young kids. In your 60s, 70s, and beyond, it may mean you’re strong enough to stay functionally active: You can handle daily activities, play with your grandkids, and get up out of a chair with ease.
Strength training can also help you live longer. A recent large-cohort study found that people who engage in 3 hours of moderate exercise each week have a 27% lower mortality risk than those who don’t exercise at all; people who also include one or two weekly strength training sessions have a remarkable 40% lower mortality risk than that of a sedentary person.
Fortunately, the adage “use it or lose it” isn’t exactly accurate when it comes to attaining lean tissue mass and all the health gains that come with it. Even if you’re already well past the age of 30, it’s never too late to start strength training: The right resistance exercise plan meets you right where you’re at, and takes you where you want to go — safely, efficiently, and effectively.
As sports medicine and physical therapy experts who specialize in sports performance and strength training for people of all fitness levels in and around Charleston, South Carolina, Dr. Kevin Bein, Dr. Sam Sheppard, and our skilled team at The Rehab Docs are ready to help you discover the many benefits of resistance exercise.