Fit senior man lifting weights alone in a gym

Why its never too late to start exercising

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New research has discovered that older people have the same ability to build muscle, whether they are couch potatoes or master athletes. Exercise physiologist Andrew Cate shows how age is no barrier to the benefits of resistance training.

The benefits of resistance training as you get older

Resistance training, also known as strength training and weight training, involves using your muscles to lift, push or pull against a resistance. 

The resistance can come in many forms, including body weight (think push ups), free weights (such as dumbbells), pin loaded weight machines, elastic bands and even water. 

Often seen as an activity for younger people, it may be surprising to know that the older you are, the more you can potentially benefit from resistance training. These benefits may extend to:
  • Maintaining and building bone density
  • Weight management
  • Improved balance, and therefore reduced susceptibility to falls
  • Improved ability to perform everyday tasks and activities
Another clear benefit of resistance training for older people is to maintain and build muscle mass. 

Skeletal muscle is vital for the maintenance of physical function, yet aging leads to a progressive loss of muscle mass and strength. It’s thought this loss of muscle mass may drive the development, and progression of many age-related health problems, and any measures to prevent this will help reduce the dependence on external healthcare services.
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Why you’re never too old to start exercising

A recent study published in Frontiers in Physiology compared the muscle building capacity of two groups of older men. 

While both groups were aged between 60 and 80 years, one group were classified as untrained, while the second group were labelled master athletes, who had maintained continuous endurance training at least twice per week for the past 20 years. 

The key finding was that there was no significant difference between both groups capacity for muscle growth in response to exercise. 

Older people who had very little exercise history, have the same ability to build muscle mass as highly trained master athletes of a similar age. It seems everyone can benefit from exercise, no matter how late you start

How to add strength exercises to your fitness routine

If you are over 50 and want to add resistance training to your exercise routine, consider the following key points.
  • Always warm up - Strength training can be strenuous, and places specific stress on the muscles. Always perform a good warm up, such as a 5 – 10 minute cycle, or fast walk
  • Start light - Start slowly with very light weights and progress gradually over weeks and months as you get stronger
  • Slow and controlled - Perform all exercises in a measured and controlled speed so that you eliminate the help from momentum and gravity
  • Two times a week - Try to exercise all your major muscle groups such as your legs, chest, back, shoulders and abdominal muscles at least twice a week
  • Rest in between - While it is fine to perform cardiovascular exercises on consecutive days, this should be avoided with resistance training. Aim for 2-3 days of rest from lifting weights in between your training sessions to help the muscles recover
  • Balanced program - Strength training is best when it is part of a total fitness program. Don't neglect other exercises such as cardiovascular training and stretching
  • You don't need a gym – While a fitness centre is a great way to train, it can be a barrier for some. Fortunately, resistance training can be performed at home with minimal equipment, or by performing body weight exercises
  • Seek professional advice - If you are unsure about resistance training, you could consult a doctor, physiotherapist, fitness instructor or personal trainer for guidance