“Resistance training (RT) is the only non-pharmacological intervention known to consistently improve, and therefore offset age-related declines in skeletal muscle mass, strength, and power,” write the authors of a 2022 study published in the journal Sports Medicine. But the researchers found that weightlifting and other forms of RT are not popular among our aging population, “likely due to numerous factors including time constraints, a high-perceived difficulty, and limited access to facilities and equipment.”
Wayne L. Westcott, PhD, author of numerous strength-training and fitness books, estimated that inactive adults lose up to 8 percent of their muscle mass each decade. He cited sharper cognition, diabetes prevention, weight reduction, improved physical performance, better cardiovascular health, and reductions in lower back pain and arthritis pain among the many benefits of weight training.
The Latest Research on Resistance Training
A 2022 meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine provided “the strongest evidence to date that resistance training is associated with reduced risk of all-cause, cardiovascular disease, and cancer-specific mortality.”
Research show gains in training capacity and competitive performance for runners, swimmers, cross-country skiers, and many other athletes following the addition of weightlifting to their programs. But this advice isn’t just for competitors. Nearly anyone can improve their overall fitness—and potentially add healthy years to their life—by incorporating strength training into their exercise routines.
“Across the lifespan, declines in strength and power occur up to eight times faster than the loss of muscle mass, and are more strongly associated with functional impairments and risks of morbidity and mortality,” wrote the authors of the Sports Medicine study. “Strategies to maximize healthspan should therefore arguably focus more on improving or maintaining muscle strength and power than on increasing muscle mass.”
In one study published by JAMA Network Open in 2022, an analysis of more than 115,000 people aged 65 and older showed that no matter how much aerobic exercise people did, it was strength training at least twice a week that lowered the risk of dying. People who did strength training twice or more a week who also did 2.5 hours of aerobic exercise saw their risk of death during the eight-year study period drop by 30 percent.
Tips for Getting Started
- Building big muscles needn’t be the goal. Weight training can have significant effects on balance, endurance, and overall strength, particularly in combination with aerobic exercises such as walking, cycling, gentle running, and swimming.
- Working with light dumbbells can be very effective, and so can body-weight exercises such as planks and pushups.
- Novices should check with a healthcare professional before beginning a weightlifting program.
- A small amount of resistance training can lead to major improvements with less time and effort than you might have thought.
- Virtually every gym, YMCA, municipal recreation center, senior center, or similar establishment will have someone on the staff who can help guide a weightlifting plan.