Lifting weights helps you age better, and it’s never too late to start. That’s the message from scientific studies conducted the world over.
If you’re still young enough to think clubbing is a good idea, here’s why you should go easy on the cocktails and go in heavy on the weights.
If you think you’re already over the hill, you need to read this then grab your gym kit and get going. The message is simple: lift strong – live healthy – live long.
Lift yourself young
We all have a so called ‘senior moment’ every now and again but as we age, the likelihood of contracting a degenerative brain disease like Alzheimer’s increases. But now research shows if you want to look after your brain you’d better hit the weights.
If you’re over 65 and sedentary, getting active can actually make your brain bigger and your thinking clearer. A study by the University of Pittsburgh found that even in old age, the brain remains remarkably plastic. This is great news as it means improvement is possible at any age. The study looked at a sample of 120 older people. Half pursued a moderate exercise program, the other half stretching and toning exercises. The group that exercised showed a marked increase in the volume of the hippocampus, an area of the brain crucial to processing memory.
Further studies at the University of British Columbia confirmed these findings. They also went on to discover that for improved cognitive performance, the best form of exercise is resistance training. Groups of older adults who lifted weights outperformed those undertaking other forms of exercise, beating them in terms of memory, attention span and higher order brain functions like conflict resolution.
As we age, we naturally lose lean muscle mass leading to problems with balance, agility and strength. But research shows that at any age, resistance training can increase muscle density, improving our performance in all areas of daily life.
A sedentary lifestyle increases the chances of developing heart disease, diabetes and other chronic degenerative conditions, but exercise has the opposite effect. That’s because strength training improves the body’s insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism, and releases both growth hormones and testosterone which are essential for maintaining lean muscle mass and bone density as well as protecting against depression. This is of particular importance to men whose testosterone levels decrease as they age.
It’s a common misconception that the metabolism slows as we age. If you keep up a high rate of physical activity as you age, your metabolism will keep going too. You’ll also benefit from lower body fat levels and a higher proportion of lean muscle mass. Continuing to lift into later life means it’s particularly important eat well in order to give your body the vital nutrients it needs.
Steer clear of bad fats, refined flour and sugar. Instead, eat plenty of healthy fruit, vegetables and whole grains. Go for low fat meats and fish and consider taking some whey protein supplements to boost protein levels post workout.
Resistance training is a vital weapon in your anti aging armoury. That’s because lifting weights has been shown to stimulate the formation of bone. This is so important as we age, particularly for post menopausal women whose reduced oestrogen levels can result in the leaching of calcium from their bones.
Weight training makes us stronger and our bones denser. We’re more robust. Older athletes are less likely to have a fall, but if they do, they’re less likely to break something. The good news is it’s possible to improve bone density at almost any age. In fact it’s been shown that women as old as 70 who weight train avoid age related bone loss and even experience a slight increase in bone density.
Clearly there are some great rewards to be reaped from hitting the gym and as we age lifting weights becomes more, not less important. But by far the most exciting benefit gained from time spent at the gym is that it keeps our walking speed up.
Why does this matter? research shows that gait speed is one of the best single indicators of life expectancy in the elderly. The faster we move at normal walking speed, the longer we’re likely to live. Weight training mixed with some cardio means we can stride into older age with confidence.