It’s officially the beginning of Fall, and a change in the season provides an opportunity to switch things up a bit and try a new activity, a new eating plan, or use the cooler weather as a motivator to sign up for a class. Lifelong learning is one of the foundations of aging well, and research has found that regular exercise that includes strength training, as well as aerobic activity, is associated with greater longevity and overall health.
We know that lifestyle habits have a direct influence on health and well-being. Eating a nutritious whole foods diet, stopping smoking, drinking in moderation, staying socially engaged, and getting regular exercise all help to prevent chronic illness and maintain function in older age. Because older adults can lose muscle mass, participating in strength training activities several times a week can help preserve the physical function that allows seniors to remain engaged and independent.
A new study published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine found that starting a regular exercise program that includes aerobic exercise 1 to 3 hours per week and 1 to 2 hours of strength training weekly lowered mortality risk among participants. The benefits of regular exercise and strength training after being sedentary was comparable to stopping smoking after being a half-pack-a-day smoker.
Although there is still much to be learned about why strength training has such positive effects on longevity and health, the largest reduction in mortality was found to be linked to 30 to 60 minutes each week of strength training. Not only will older adults enjoy a longer life, but their quality of life also improves with more muscle strength for daily activities and pastimes. Seniors can live longer in their own homes when they have the strength to do housework, groceries, and yard work and can enjoy more social interaction with greater physical function.
When starting any new exercise program, check first with your doctor and start off slowly, gradually increasing resistance or weight and duration over time to avoid injury. Effective strength training does not require expensive equipment or gym memberships. There are many exercises that use body weight, light weights, or a resistance band to strengthen muscles, and can be done at home in a relatively small space. Visit the AARP website to learn 5 strength training exercises to complement your walking routine.