Wed, Nov 21, 2018

Could Pumping Iron Help You Live Longer?

Research shows strength training may decrease cardiovascular risk and premature death for older adults.

As people get older many stop doing strength, or resistance, training, but fitness professionals and health providers say commonly whether a person is 18 or 80, they need both cardiovascular and strengthening exercises. Beyond the immediate benefits, like improved shape and tone, research now links not just aerobic exercise but strength training with a reduced risk of death from all causes.

Yet, just as many Americans don’t do any type of exercise, the vast majority of older adults don’t meet recommendations from the American Heart Association and American College of Sports Medicine to do strength training at least two days a week. What they’re missing out on goes beyond improved muscle definition and tone – though it’s worth pointing out, experts say, that you can see those kind of results, too, even at an advanced age.

There is very good evidence available to show that 80-year-olds are just as able to improve their muscle mass as 50-year-olds. And this can be done reliably over a very short period of time – something as short as two to three months.

It just doesn’t stop there. Strength training can help prevent age-related muscle and bone loss. What’s more, research – including notably a large 2016 study – has helped broaden the understanding of the impact building muscle may have for an older person’s health and life.

Other research has found strength training is associated with a lower risk of death for a vulnerable population – individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, as one study found – as well as for women, as shown in research published last year in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

What’s more, building muscle is associated with better blood sugar regulation – helping to clear excess glucose – which can lower one’s risk for developing diabetes.

Still, whether it’s owed to a decrease in inflammation, improved blood sugar regulation or more outwardly obvious changes – like better strength and balance that decreases the risk of a senior taking a serious fall – experts say there’s plenty to suggest strength training should be part of any physical activity routine.

It’s not just about decreasing mortality risk, but improvement in a person’s ability to do what they want and need to do, from playing with grandkids to going to the grocery store. In addition to strengthening muscle, resistance training helps to make bones healthier.

Focus on reps and don’t be afraid to get creative, while making sure you enjoy what you do – so that you’re more likely to stick with it. Using things like exercise bands, and even activities that use one’s own body weight can be really beneficial in maintaining function and helping keep people healthy. Even yoga that uses body weight for some of the moves is considered a form of strength training.

Whatever you do, the key is to get started – and incorporate resistance training into your workout. Seniors should definitely look into ways of adding strength training to their regular routine. And if you are a FirstCommunity plan member, you have access to First&Fit, their discounted fitness program available at all Huntsville Hospital Wellness Centers in Huntsville, Madison and Athens. For more information, call (256) 532-2783.

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