Updated: Aug 21, 2021
The aging process is a daunting and inevitable one.
Which is why effort and action must be taken to improve the overall health, longevity, and quality of life.
Despite this, 80% of adults are not engaging in enough physical activity to reach prescribed guidelines. In general, but especially for seniors, inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle are extremely dangerous.
What are the dangers exactly? Increased risk of serious adverse health conditions such as blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity, cholesterol issues, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cancer, depression, and death from any cause. In 2008 there were 5.3 million deaths worldwide caused by a lack of physical activity out of the 57 million deaths worldwide.
Many people know weightlifting is hugely beneficial but think light walking or recreational activity is “good enough” for seniors. There is this misconception that older aged individuals should stay away from any strenuous activity that can build strength like weightlifting. Continuing on completely unaware of the benefits of strength training.
Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Because of this, I spent hours upon hours researching and reading over 200 scientifically backed, peer-reviewed studies, 126 of which were used specifically for this article. All in order to provide you with the benefits of strength training for older adults and elderly.
Physical Fitness for Healthy Aging: Is resistance training with weights safe?
It is a good question. At any age there is a level of “danger” that comes with weightlifting in all of its forms. But are there greater risks or dangers for those who are in the older populations?
There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of studies with volunteers from ages 55-90 weight training. Training with weights, whether that be heavy or light, has been shown to be a safe, enjoyable, and beneficial activity for older adults and the elderly.
But, as with all ages, there is always a risk of injury. To keep it safe, studies suggest using safe equipment, careful warming up and cooling down, and a focus on using the correct range of motion is important. You should be sharing your new or current physical endeavors with your doctor and get the two thumbs up from them as well.
What about the type of training? The safest type of training focuses on progressive increases in intensity, much like the Stronglifts DRS Workout. The focus being on power development that increases the speed of force production.
Through this training, the level of cardiovascular and musculoskeletal fitness improves. These improvements are a key factor in injury prevention among older adults and the elderly. This is especially true for seniors who hope to remain active in their favorite actities and sports. For example, strength training for golf is known to significantly aid in injury prevention.
So not only is weightlifting safe, there are also ways to increase the level of safety of the activity. All while playing a major role in reducing the overall chance of injury.
10 benefits of weightlifting for age-related muscle loss/sarcopenia for seniors
As age increases, muscle mass and strength decreases. From age 50 muscle mass begins to decrease by 1-2% annually. In your 50s, muscle strength starts to fall by 1.5% and from age 60 and older it begins to decrease by 3% annually.
It is estimated that 5-13% of elderly people in the age range of 60-70 years old and 11-50% for those aged 80 or above suffer from sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss).This issue can lead to an increase in frailty and a significant increase in the risk of falls.
The continued loss of lean muscle mass with age adds to the development of age-related metabolic dysfunction.
Strength Training for Muscle Mass & Strength
1. Although it may be obvious, picking things up and putting them down improves muscle mass and muscle quality.
2. While your building that muscle you are also experiencing Increases in general strength, maximal strength, and muscle power.
Resistance Training Benefits For Endurance & Efficiency
3. Not only will you be building muscle, your overall endurance will have a boost as well. Weightlifting improves the endurance of the muscles themselves, aerobic conditioning, and walking speed. Participants also demonstrated an increase in VO2 max. The max amount of oxygen you can use during exercise.
4. These improvements in endurance were also seen by increasing cycling economy and the overall gross efficiency, the amount of energy produced in relation to the total energy used.
Think about gross efficiency as trying to start a fire. If you did it by rubbing sticks together it will take a great deal of energy to produce the fire. In comparison, just flicking a lighter and holding it on for a little requires less energy.
The greater the gross efficiency the more energy produced in comparison to the energy used.
Weight Training Benefits On The Cellular Level
5. These endurance and efficiency improvements had some support on the molecular level. Support came from higher levels of blood lactate concentrations, hemoglobin, and capillary-to-fibre ratios.
6. The increases in blood lactate and hemoglobin both play roles in increasing performance capacity. While the increased capillary-to-fibre ratios allow for greater delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the muscles. All together empowering muscles to perform optimally.
How Strength Training Improves Lifting & Life
7. Long-term lifting is the best way to prevent age-related muscle loss from ever becoming an issue.
8. One study found that strength-trained masters athletes (older adults with long-term strength training) have an overall higher muscle force-generating capacity and level of overall functional performance. Physically active adults with a consistent level of recreational activity were significantly outperformed by “The Masters”.
So what if you weren’t ahead of the curve and have limited to no experience in weightlifting? Don’t stress, you don’t need to hit the gym five times a week for hours at a time.
In fact, one study took the guesswork out for you. They even took it a step up by studying this in osteosarcopenia obesity. This is a new geriatric syndrome that is a combination of osteoporosis, sarcopenia, and increased fat mass.
9. What they found was that by doing 1 set of exercises three times a week were enough to provide increases in strength, skeletal muscle mass, and decreased body fat over 12 weeks. Increasing that to 3 sets of exercises three times a week resulted in a dramatic boost in results.
10. All-in-all making weightlifting a valuable way to improve the overall quality of life and functional independence of those who are suffering from severe age-related muscle loss or sarcopenia.
Weightlifting is the most effective treatment to prevent, slow down, or partially reverse age-related muscle loss/sarcopenia. Don't forget about fending off the detrimental health issues that come with it as well.
8 Benefits of weightlifting for fighting obesity and increasing metabolism in seniors
As we age, the levels of important hormones begin to change. Your muscle mass decreases. Along with other critical factors that lead to the inevitable decrease in metabolism. This, in turn with poor health behaviors and a sedentary lifestyle, leads to the increase of fat mass and damaging of your metabolic health. With this come greater risks for functional capacity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, pulmonary abnormalities, cancer, urinary incontinence, cataracts, and more.
Burning fat no matter your age
1.Not only will hitting the weights provide gains in the muscle department, it is also an extremely effective strategy for burning fat. Studies demonstrated significant decreases in total fat mass, intra-abdominal fat, and visceral fat.
2. Although both men and women saw increases in fat-free mass and fat loss, women tend to lose more intra-abdominal and subcutaneous fat.
Increasing metabolism to speed up weight loss
3. Another avenue that weightlifting enhances weight loss is through increasing metabolism.
4. One study demonstrated an increase in metabolic rate by 7% and a decrease in fat weight of 1.8kg over 10 weeks of training. So not only will you be losing weight and gaining muscle, it will also increase the level of calories your body is burning on its own while active and resting.
5. Another way it will help burn fat and boost metabolism is by how weight training significantly increases levels of the hormone isrin.
6. Isirin is a hormone that plays a role in converting “white fat” into “brown fat”. White fat is used as an energy reserve in the body, insulation, and as a cushion for our organs. But excess white fat is that fun little tummy pouch we have all dreadingly poked at in the mirror. Whereas brown fat contains a large number of mitochondria and blood vessels which plays a role in burning fat and generating heat. By increasing levels of isrin, you are increasing levels of brown fat and increasing overall fat burning potential.
Benefits of increased muscle mass
There is more to this “building muscle” thing than just being in shape and stronger.
7. Having higher muscle mass is actually associated with a lower mortality risk in people with heart disease. Lower mortality risk is a benefit everyone loves, which we will dive into greater detail later on in this article.
8. Volunteers in the age range of 61-80 were able to add 2.4 pounds of muscle and saw their physical age reduce by an average of 5 years. Allowing them to literally feel younger and be healthier.
Weightlifting will help fight obesity, increase muscle mass, reduce fat, boost metabolism, improve overall body composition, and even reduce risks for developing type-2 diabetes.
11 Benefits of weightlifting for reducing risk factors for falls and improving functional independence for seniors
Being able to be functionally independent is a major quality of life factor. The more functional independence you have the less likely you are to experience a fall. Approximately 9,500 deaths in older American adults are connected to a fall each year. On top of this, the vast majority of minor or serious injuries are connected to falls. Those that experience fall will do so again within six months.
So it is clear, any way to reduce these risk factors and improve functional independence is critical.
Balance and movement control
1. Starting with the basics, when standing or moving, you need to be able to have solid balance. Training with weights demonstrated consistent improvement in static and dynamic balance.
There is another aspect of biological functioning that also degrades with time and lack of activity. That is your neuromuscular functioning. This is your body’s ability to control movement, proper movement, knowing where your body and all limbs are at all times, understand the amount of effort being put into moving, and balance.
2. Working with weights improves the age-related declines in neuromuscular functioning.
3. Those who have been lifting throughout the years as a way of life have protection against any age-related declines in neuromuscular functioning.
Maybe you are concerned about how much time, energy, and intensity will it require to get these benefits? Do you have to be moving hundreds of lbs on your back, day in and day out, for hours at a time?
4. This is the best part. Three separate studies were able to show that both low and high-volume weight lifting geared towards improving strength slowly but surely will improve neuromuscular functioning. Not to mention all of the functional benefit that comes with it!
5. These improvements were demonstrated through improved balance, greater functional capacity, and proper movement.
Mobility and flexibility
6. Another important factor to consider is flexibility. Having proper flexibility at the joints ensures greater functional capabilities. This and safety while doing various movements when up and about. 12-weeks of training was able to improve flexibility in essentially every joint movement.
7. Increasing the frequency of weightlifting provides greater improvement in frontal hip flexion.
This is all sounds great but how is this going to actually benefit you in the day-to-day activities of your life?
8. First off, you can move with greater ease and grace. For example, weightlifting was able to improve step length, step speed, and improve single-step balance recovery by 15-30%.
9. As your strength increases the benefits begin to appear in general functionable capabilities. One study demonstrated that it led performance and time to complete various tasks improves. Specific tasks studied were climbing stairs, rising from chairs, and going from standing to sitting.
1.0 Weight training is as effective as aerobic-based training in improving physical skills and functional capabilities.
11. Whether you have not had a serious fall yet or you already have a history of falls, there still seems to be a lingering fear of falls. This fear can hold elderly and older adults with limited functional capabilities back from doing the simplest activities or tasks. Thankfully, weightlifting has been shown to reduce the fear of falling whether the volunteer had a history of falls or not.
The science is clear. Weightlifting will help reduce tons of risk factors for falls, improve functional independence, functional capacity, and quality of life. Making weightlifting a necessity in the growing older adult and elderly populations.
7 Benefits of weightlifting for quality of life for seniors
Growing old can be a difficult and scary process. Improving the experience of aging, the health of the older populations, and the quality of life is a valuable endeavor. When these objectives are achieved, it can empower older adults and elderly to live a fuller, more engaged, and active life.
Pain free living
1. Thankfully, training helps improve the overall quality of life. One way is by reducing the level of general aches and pains as well as disorder-specific pain.
2. That is exactly the point. Reducing pain levels allows for greater ease of movement, fewer restrictions when moving, and in general, feeling better with less negative stimuli coming from your body.
Mental and emotional
3. On top of being able to move around with less pain, improving strength and muscle through weight lifting improves health-related factors. Which can improve physical capabilities as well as the emotional and mental state.
4. Now with these improved physical functional capabilities you are able to lead a more engaged and active lifestyle.
5. Being more active, engaged, and having more social interaction is the golden ticket that improves mental and emotional health on various levels.
6. Weight training also innately improves mental, emotional, and cognitive health through biological mechanisms that enhance the quality of life.
7. Other areas of quality are less obvious, for example, urinary incontinence. 25 million adults in America suffer with urinary incontinence and 75-80% of those are women.124 23% of women over the age of 60 struggle with incontinence. Frail older women who struggle with this issue who underwent weight training saw a 50% reduction in daily leaks.
More engaged and active lifestyle. Less pain. Improved cognitive, mental, and emotional health. Weightlifting is a crucial aspect of improving the quality of life of older adults and elderly.
5 Benefits of weightlifting for improving osteoarthritis and bone health for seniors
Over 30 million adults in the US struggle with osteoarthritis. Factors like obesity, previous injuries, muscle weakness, bone density, and joint health play a role in the development of osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. With this diagnosis comes a great deal of pain from moving, stiffness, loss of flexibility in the joints, and overall impeding a pain-free life.
1. Weightlifting has been shown across several studies to reduce the pain for those afflicted with osteoarthritis.
2. On top of that, they were able to demonstrate an improvement in function for those with osteoarthritis.
3. This included a significant reduction in levels of the measure of disability and general physical performance.
Every year that adults do not perform weight training or general strength and muscle building activities, they may experience a reduction in bone mineral density. This reduction can range anywhere from 1-3%. This alarming statistic shows how the combination of aging, a sedentary lifestyle, and any other potential bad health behaviors can accumulate into a great deal of issues down the road.
4. To counteract this there is a major need for weightlifting. This is because it was demonstrated to help improve bone mineral density and overall bone health.
5. In fact, weight training alone or in combination with impact-loading types of training are the most osteogenic, bone producing, activities one can do.
Weightlifting is a critical aspect of reducing the pain of osteoarthritis, improving bone health, reducing chances of injury, improving frailty, and is even prescribed for the prevention of diseases like osteoporosis.
5 Benefits of weightlifting for cardiovascular health for seniors
According to the CDC, 1 in every 4 deaths, or 610,000 people die of some form of heart disease in the US every year. It is the leading cause of death for both men and women with around 735,000 individuals in the US experiencing a heart attack each year.
With aging, there tends to be less and less physical activity. On top of this, there is a deterioration of the cells that maintain the natural beating pace of the heart, and increased rigidity of the heart. All leading to reduced or slowed flow of blood throughout the body. With other factors playing a role in this issue, it becomes a major focus and cause of concern for the aging population.
1. Weightlifting is known to improve many factors of cardiovascular health, with one being blood pressure. Showing the ability to decrease both the systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
It is also known to significantly improve your lipid panel which is detailed in systematic reviews and many specific studies.
2. High-Density Lipoprotein or HDL (good) cholesterol can be difficult to improve. With that said, weightlifting has been shown to improve HDL (good) cholesterol by 8% to 21% on average.
3. Low-Density Lipoprotein or LDL (bad) cholesterol was shown to decrease 13% to 23% on average due to weight training.
4. Levels of triglycerides also reduced an average of 11% to 18%.
5. On a more detailed point, researchers also noticed that weight training reduced levels of several inflammatory molecules. Specifically, interleukin-6, tumor necrosis factor alpha, and c-reactive protein.
These molecules in the body are all produced in response to inflammation. They are critical markers that are measured to assess the level of disease and predict future potential cardiovascular events. Some, like interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor alpha, can also cause further damage when present at consistently higher levels.
With heart disease leading to 1 in 4 deaths , weightlifting is vitally important for the aging population to build not just muscle but a healthier heart and cardiovascular system.
6 Benefits of weightlifting for cognitive functioning in seniors
Unfortunately, as you begin to age, your cognitive function can start to decline. You may have experienced this as you aged or have seen loved ones go through this process. Although there is no cure-all for this, anything that can be done to improve it is of great value for the overall quality of life.
Brain Health: Boosting Your Memory and Cognitive Functioning
1. Those with prior memory compromise or mild cognitive impairment saw improvements in memory and overall cognitive functioning.
2. What about those who didn’t have prior issues? Older adults who are cognitively healthy also saw an improvement in memory from weight training.
3. In case you were wondering, weight training is just as beneficial as aerobic-based training in improving levels of confusion.
4. But when it comes to improving cognitive functioning as a whole, moderate and high-intensity resistance training delivers and does so significantly better than aerobic-based training.
5. You see, training promotes an increase of a very important molecule in the brain. This molecule is known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF for short.
6. BDNF helps existing neurons survive to help prevent the deterioration of the brain. It also encourages the growth of new neurons and synapses. Therefore, it plays a vital role in various areas of cognitive health such as in learning, memory, and higher level thinking.
Weightlifting is an integral part of maintaining healthy cognitive functioning to empower the older population to live a more independent and engaged life.
6 Benefits of weightlifting for mental health in seniors
As decreases in functioning, energy, independence, and ability to do some of the things us youngins’ take for granted begin to occur with age. It can start to take a toll on mental health. Everything from depression, anxiety, reduced self-esteem, and more start to come into play.
1. This is where training with weights provides some hope yet again. Weight lifting can lead to significant reductions in depressive symptoms in healthy older adults and the elderly. This was also the case in specific issues such as wheelchair-bound older adults with dementia.
So how much can weightlifting improve depressive symptoms?
2. Well, one study used the Hamilton Rating Scale of Depression to measure. They found that when doing high-intensity training 61% of the volunteers and 29% of the low-intensity training volunteers had over a 50% reduction in depressive symptoms.
3. Improving strength through weightlifting is able to improve levels of anxiety and levels of tension.
Psychological well being
4. Doing daily light training and training in general was able to improve volunteers’ self-perception of physical well being, functional competency, physical condition, body satisfaction, and self-esteem. So clearly, even just keeping it light and simple can be enough to make some great progress in this department.
5. Weightlifting is also just as effective at improving mood, tension, and levels of fatigue as aerobic-based training.
Lastly, one study compared the impact of the amount of sedentary time and level of intensity of the training mental health composite scores.
6. They found, regardless of what level of intensity the training, that reducing the amount of sedentary time markedly improved the volunteers’ mental health scores. Additionally, the higher intensity also seemed to outperform the low-intensity training groups.
Having at least daily light training up to consistent high-intensity training are valuable ways to improve the overall mental health of the aging population.
2 Benefits of weightlifting for reducing mortality risk in seniors
All the research above suggests weightlifting is going to help you live a much more functional, independent, and more engaged life through the aging process. In the previous sections, we discussed some ways it will help in the health department with some more to come as well.
These next two come from massive research undertakings in the form of two studies and are probably the most powerful benefits of all.
1. One European study enlisted 334,161 individuals and followed up with them over 12.4 years. Among the vast amount of data they discovered, they found that those doing as little as 20 minutes of light exercise daily could reduce a person’s risk of early death by as much as 30%.
2. The National Health Interview Survey data from 1997-2001 was linked to the National Death Index. The survey responses, demographics, past medical history, and other health behaviors were all collected and analyzed. What they found was that adults 65 and older who reported doing the prescribed amount of strength training (twice a week) had a 46% lower odds of all-cause mortality than those who did not. This percentage remained even after adjusting data for all past medical history and other health behaviors.67
The vast amount of data that these studies drew their conclusions begs the question, can anyone really afford to not be exercising in the form of weight training?
11 Benefits of weightlifting for glycemic control and type 2 diabetes in seniors
1. Weightlifting reduces resting blood glucose levels.
2. Weight training is the better choice for improving glycemic control than aerobic exercise. This is true in healthy adults and adults with type-2 diabetes. Insulin resistance & sensitivity
3. Insulin resistance is a common factor in the development of pre-diabetes and then diabetes. This means that the cells are unable to use insulin efficiently and therefore do a poor job of absorbing glucose from the blood. Simply put, weightlifting helps reduce entire body insulin resistance.
4. It also has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity for up to 24 hours and the amount of glucose uptake by muscle cells for one week. Meaning a single bout of training can help use insulin more efficiently and utilize more glucose for energy in muscles. Rather than going through the unfortunate and complex process of being converted into fatty acids stored in fat tissue.
5. Participants in studies demonstrated reduced levels of HbA1c, a fancy term for the number of red blood cells that have been bonded by a molecule of glucose.
6. Training was also shown to increase hSGLT3 mRNA transcript levels by a factor of 10. This molecule is believed to play a crucial role in sensing glucose levels. This then would lead to signaling the body for a more appropriate response and effective transporting of glucose. This increase in hSGLT3 was correlated with reduced glucose toxicity and improvements in insulin resistance.
7. A molecule known as glucose transporter type-4 (GLUT4) increased in density in response to weight training. What does that mean?
When you eat and glucose(sugar) levels in our blood increase and insulin is released in response. When insulin attaches to receptors on the plasma membrane (exterior side of the cell), the cell takes GLUT4 “out of storage” and moves it to the plasma membrane. Once GLUT4 is there it will begin transporting and absorbing glucose into the cell.
All this means that training increases GLUT4 density (amount on the outside of the cell) leading to higher levels of glucose absorption into muscle cells and adipose tissue.
8. Another study found that the training was able to reduce the level of serum blood glucose in type 2 diabetes mellitus at a higher level than in non-diabetics. This improvement was correlated with higher levels of miR-146a circulating in the blood. This molecule is typically downregulated in diabetes and although not yet fully understood, seems to play a role in regulating inflammatory molecules as well as a mediator in other important biological processes related to diabetes.
9. Inflammation is a critical factor to consider in the disease state of diabetes. Thankfully, putting work in at the gym helps reduce systemic inflammation significantly. Specifically, they found that it reduced interleukin-6, Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNF-a), and C reactive protein (CRP).
Molecules such as TNF-a and interleukin-6 play a role in increasing insulin resistance, oxidative stress, and potentially further inflammation which only worsens the state of diabetes. Whereas higher levels of CRP have been shown to be correlated with poorer glycemic control and increased glycosylated hemoglobin.
10. The hormone adiponectin increases in levels in response to weight training. Produced and secreted by adipose tissue, the role of adiponectin is to help in regulating glucose levels and breaking down fatty acids.
11. I know these molecule names are getting confusing...but they are important which is why I have to tell you that training also increases interleukin-1 beta and TGF-Beta1 in older adults with type 2 diabetes.
Interleukin-1 beta plays an inflammatory role where it can lead to the loss of beta-cell mass and beta-cell death (beta-cells are what produced insulin) in the pancreas as well a potential amplifier of cardiovascular events.
As for TGF-Beta1, it also is out for the blood of beta-cells by inhibiting the growth of new beta-cells and inducing beta-cell death. Reducing interleukin-1 and TGF-Beta1 can help improve glycemic control, proper beta-cell functioning, and growth of new, functioning beta-cells.
Weightlifting is a powerful tool for helping improve the health status in type-2 diabetes and prevent developing diabetes to the point that studies have shown training being able to reduce the required dosage of prescribed medications.
3 Benefits of weightlifting for improving sleep in seniors
Despite what is common now in our society and culture, “burning the midnight oil” should not be some form of badge of honor. Lack of sleep is a serious issue and health concern. Proper sleep is crucial for improving mental, physical, and emotional health no matter what age you are.
1. A single session of resistance training was able to improve sleep latency, the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, as well as sleep consolidation. The last one there, sleep consolidation, is important for proper functioning of the brain’s role in memory and learning.
2. On top of that is was able to improve general sleep quality, sleep latency, and scores on the month-long Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index.
3. Lastly, combining training with some light walking can reduce the severity of obstructive sleep apnea. Although it doesn’t cure you of sleep apnea, any improvement will allow for greater levels of proper breathing, reduce the amount of disruption of normal sleep patterns, and the other issues that can stem from this disorder.
Weightlifting improves sleep which is a necessity for all people of any age, but especially as we age as issues with memory, learning, cognitive functioning, and overall health become a bigger concern.
3 Benefits for age-related mitochondrial impairment in seniors
The mitochondria are “the powerhouse” of the cell. Found in every cell in the body, except red blood cells, they are responsible for producing the energy for the cell to do their jobs.
You have probably seen fad products, articles, or programs all around enhancing your mitochondria. But what does that mean and why does it matter?
Here is a little scenario to help show why improving your mitochondrial health is extremely valuable for overall health and longevity.
Think about a typical city as being the human body and the major components being cells. Let’s say the police force, fire department, hospital workers, and emergency medical technicians are all individual cells. Then, we make it so all of the people that fill these roles can only get four hours of sleep a night, eat 1,000 calories, drink two cups of water a day, and no coffee *gasp*. It is clear that this city would be in severe danger, would ha