Two years ago, I realized I had neglected my health and decided I needed to turn things around. One of the first things I did on my journey to become healthier was to start a weight training program. At that time, I had no idea the extent weight lifting would change my life. Now, I am determined to lift weights as long as I can hold a dumbbell in my hand. I am also determined to share the benefits of strength training with others, beginning with my family.
On a recent trip to Tucson to see my father, Dr. Marvin Bates, we went to the gym and I helped him start his weight training program. He is now a believer in the benefits of weight training for people of all ages, including seasoned adults like himself.
In recent years, the importance of strength training has led to a resurgence of older people engaging in strength training. These 50-, 60-,70- and 80-year-old men and women understand how weight and resistance training can help them maintain their independence and vitality. Even the American College of Sports Medicine recommends people age 50 and over perform 20 to 30 minutes of strength training two to three times a week to work major muscle groups including arms, legs and the core abdominal and back muscles.
Yet, most people over the age of 50 don’t perform any form of weight or resistance exercise. All too often the aging adult accepts getting weaker as a sign of getting older, which just is not the case. Strength training can slow and even reverse some of the effects of aging, such as loss of muscle, strength, mobility and balance; brittle bones caused by osteoporosis; and dysfunctional joints.
Many fitness experts recommend strength training with barbells or free weights. Why? Because barbell lifting is most like daily body movements with added weight to increase strength. Jonathon Sullivan, M.D., author of Barbell Training is Big Medicine, explains, “Squats, dead lifts and presses strengthen the body for functional movements – getting up, walking, standing, bending over, reaching – we use every day. Barbell training forces muscles to grow stronger and more flexible; tendons and ligaments to become thicker; bones to start absorbing calcium and lay down new matrix; and the endocrine and hormone systems to get moving.”
Need more evidence of the benefits of strength training later in life? Consider that weight training can:
- Decrease chronic diseases such as arthritis, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and insulin resistance.
- Increase serotonin production in the brain, resulting in decreased anxiety and depression, and improved sleep.
- Strengthen the heart so it pumps blood throughout the body at a lower heart rate, reducing the risks of heart disease and preparing the body to perform strenuous work.
- Improve mental function.
- Reduce headaches and muscle and joint pain.
- Enhance appearance, self-confidence and self-esteem.
- Provide the foundational strength and endurance needed for other activities such as walking, swimming, running, hiking, skiing, biking, etc.
Ready to get started? Here are some simple steps:
- Talk with your doctor to make sure strength training is safe for you.
- Think of weight training as a marathon, not a sprint; start slowly and build gradually.
- Work with a personal trainer or expert, especially when starting out to ensure good form and minimize the risk of injury.
- Focus on exercises that target multiple muscles such as the squat, bench press, shoulder press and deadlift.
- Lift a weight light enough to achieve 10 to 15 repetitions each set before muscles become fatigued.
- At home, use cans of food and jugs of water or other weighted items if you don’t have weights.
- Mix it up: use barbells, free weights, kettlebells, resistance bands, wrist and ankle weights.
- Avoid the no-pain-no-gain mentality. There should be no pain while lifting weights, but it is normal to feel some soreness the next day or two.
There is no definitive evidence that strength training or any other exercise program or diet will substantially prolong our lives, but they can improve our quality of life today and in the years to come. We should do what we can to remain functional well into our aging years. Be Strong. FBN
By Brian Bates
Brian K. Bates, M.D., a board-certified anesthesiologist specializing in regional anesthesia, joined Forest Country Anesthesia in 2002. He is a strong advocate for incorporating activity, including strength and weight training, into daily living. When not caring for patients, Dr. Bates enjoys being outdoors with his wife and four children, taekwondo, creative writing and working out with his dad.
Forest Country Anesthesia providers perform more than 16,000 anesthetic procedures each year in all areas of anesthesiology, including cardiovascular, neurosurgery, obstetrics, orthopedics and pediatrics, across five facilities in Northern Arizona. To learn more about Dr. Bates and Forest Country Anesthesia, visit ForestCountryAnesthesia.com or call 928-773-2505.