Weight Lifting and Aging

Weight Lifting and Aging

Recently, one of my students approached me and asked if she should continue to lifts weights as she aged.  She specifically asked about lifting weights after the age of 70 as she had read (she did not recall where) that it was not encouraged.  I have not read anything to indicate that but decided to do some research on my own.

I am going to begin with middleage and above, so there will be something for everyone here.  To begin, I could find nothing to discourage weight lifting at any age; in fact, I found just the opposite.  However, weight lifting as we age is a different process from those in younger stages of life.   According to a 2017 article on NJ.com:

“As men and women age, their muscle fibers shrink in number and in size, contributing to a loss of strength, balance, and coordination. Remarkably, people can experience some of these declines as early as their 40s. Genetics, diet, smoking, alcohol use and, especially, lack of physical activity, may all contribute to this decline. But the good news is that resistance exercise can reverse much of this decline and increase the size of shrunken muscle fibers.”

This article also quotes the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) as reporting on specific weight training guidelines for this age group.  Here is their advice:

” Resistance training exercises should be performed 2 to 3 times a week to work major muscle groups including arms, legs and the core. The goal: lift a weight that’s heavy enough to achieve 10 to 15 repetitions per session before muscles become fatigued. ACSM recommends both strength training and aerobic activity on a regular basis; 20 to 60 minutes of aerobic activity is advised 3 to 5 days a week and weight training should be done for 20 to 30 minutes 2 to 3 times a week.”

The student who asked the question attends my Les Mills BodyPump class which touts lower weights and higher repetitions for long, lean muscle mass.  Could this training this be sufficient for said age group?  Les Mills has this to say, in an article published 10 months ago:

“A new research study published today in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness finds that low-weight, high-repetition resistance training increases bone mineral density in adults, challenging assumptions that heavy weight-training is required to build bone mineral density. Participants who completed the study experienced up to eight percent bone mineral density increases in the legs, pelvis, arms and spine.

The full study titled, “Low Load, High Repetition Resistance Training Program Increases Bone Mineral Density In Untrained Adults,” is now available here. The findings indicate that this type of strength training may be an effective and maintainable method of increasing bone mineral density in older people and sedentary groups. A secondary finding indicates postmenopausal women and osteopenic individuals (those with low bone mineral density) would benefit most from a low-weight, high-repetition exercise regimen.”

This is good news because not everyone wants to push maximum weights for 10 reps, especially the older population.  That can be a strain on many body parts as we age. They recommend attending two to three such classes a week.  For more information on the study results, please read the article below:

Les Mills: Low-weight, High Rep Workout Benefits

Here are a few guidelines listed in the above NJ.com article and I think they are quite good (also, before beginning a new exercise regime, always consult your doctor first to discuss any health issues you may have):

“*Don’t strength train more than three times per week, and be sure to add a rest day in between workouts.
*If you’re not sure of proper form or have pre-existing injuries, it’s better to start working with a personal trainer to reduce the risk of injury.
*If desired, start off using machines as they can help enforce proper form. For some students, free weights, which require balance and coordination, are better once you’ve gotten the basics down (although even beginners can attend BodyPump).
*You shouldn’t experience pain while lifting weights, but it is normal to feel some soreness the next day.”

This same article also touts this little story, which is awesome:

“In a recent Wall Street Journal (2015) article entitled “The Benefits of Pumping Iron in Later Life” one man’s story depicts the value of strength training best. At 75, a retired thoracic surgeon had such severe spinal pain — the result of being hunch over patients for years during surgery — that he couldn’t even manage walking more than a block or two. After incorporating strength training into his workout routine three years ago, he is now playing nine holes of golf twice a week, and walked 6 miles a day last summer during his vacation. A pretty nice return on his investment of time!”

For more details see the article here:

Benefits of Pumping Iron Later in Life

So bottom line is that weight training is great for all age groups!  Just be sure you know what it best for you personally and for your stage of life.  One must consider that some folks may have health conditions that limit what one can and cannot do and how much weight one can actually load on the bar, etc.  So get a good trainer who works with and understands older populations, or select a class that incorporates beginners (described as a multilevel class).  You cannot just pick any personal trainer, he or she must tout the fact that they work with and understand older clients.  If you decide to attend classes, like BodyPump as discussed above, have a chat with the instructor on your first day.  Make sure they know you are new and discuss any physical limitations you may have.  Proceed slowly but do proceed.  You will have a longer, healthier and happier life!

“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age ~ Sophia Loren

“My mother was a P.E. teacher, and she was kind of a fanatic about fitness and nutrition growing up, so it was ingrained in me at a young age. As I get older, I’m finding out it’s not about getting all buffed up and looking good. It’s more about staying healthy and flexible.” ~     Josh Duhamel


2 thoughts on “Weight Lifting and Aging

  1. Mary Sherman

    I started with a personal trainer at the beginning of March, and already feel 10 times, stronger, more upright and less fatigued. It’s a grueling session with her, but I’m always glad I did it.

    1. Laurie

      Sorry it took me so long to see this, Mary! Good for you I am so happy for you. Feeling better as we age is what it is all about! Give yourself a pat on the back 🙂 You ROCK!

Leave a Comment