Many older women think weight lifting is for men, or (at the very least) for younger women. There are many benefits from weight lifting. Weight training helps you rebuild muscle strength at any age. But there are some benefits of weight training that are specific to older people.
So here are 5 reasons to lift weights when you are older. Let me see if I can persuade you to give it a go.
1. Weight training will reduce your chances of falling
Around a third of people aged 65 and over fall at least once a year. For some it can be a trivial fall, but for many it results in broken bones and loss of confidence. It also tends to increase the fear of falling again. Ironically being afraid of falling can almost double your chances of actually falling.
Strength training using weights builds the support structure your skeleton needs. Stronger muscles, ligaments and the tendons help to stabilise joints. Lifting heavy weights also teaches your body to react quickly to a destabilising load. So when you stumble or start to fall, you can instinctively recover more easily. Your body will have developed a much better sense of where your limbs are in space. It will know what your back is doing. It can more easily correct the imbalance and bring you back to stability.
In other words it will mean that you are less likely to fall.
It also means you will worry less about the possibility of falling. Around half of older people are afraid of falling. This makes them more generally anxious and afraid of new situations. Weight training regularly reduces your fear of falling.
2. Lifting weights will limit bone fragility
According to Harvard Health Publishing bone mass declines at a rate of 1 percent per year after age 40. This means your bone density is becoming less. As you get older, you will be more and more likely to break bones, unless you do something to prevent this bone density loss.
In the USA an older adult is treated in the emergency room (A & E Departments) for a fall every 11 seconds. An older adult dies from a fall every 19 minutes. These are terrifying figures.
One of the best ways to delay this decrease in bone density is to put your bones under resistance. One of the best and most focussed ways to do this is by lifting weights.
When older people fall, they often break bones, lose even more confidence and become even more anxious. If you weight train regularly, you are less likely to break bones even if you do fall. So you are likely to recover much more quickly too.
3. Working out will help you to be more independent
Many older women live on their own. Of necessity they have to do things for themselves. Weight training makes all sorts of every day jobs easier. Opening jars becomes easier. Moving furniture becomes easier. Carrying shopping becomes easier. Even walking becomes easier. Even if you live with someone else, they may not always want to help and support you. They may be tired or ill and looking for support themselves.
4. Lifting weights will reduce your bingo wings
Bingo wings are those flabby bits of skin that hang down from your upper arms. Many women wear longer sleeved clothes to hide them. Most older women have bingo wings to some extent. The ones who don’t are often the ones who go to a gym or workout at home. I sometimes joke that bingo wings are nature’s way of telling you that you need to go to the gym. Having strong, toned arms is definitely a goal worth working towards.
Coach has a specific workout for bingo wings. You can do this at home if you wish.
5. Weight training will improve your posture
One of the give-away as people get older is that their posture starts to go. They slump forward and they sag. Having good posture can immediately make you look a lot slimmer. It can also make you look a lot younger and more energetic. This benefit won’t happen immediately but will come along at the same time as a stronger back. Another great benefit of lifting heavy weights.
Ultimate Performance have a great article and workout to help improve your posture.
I hope I’ve convinced you, but you may be worried that I keep talking about “heavy weights”. Sadly many women go to the gym and train with very light dumbbells. They don’t break into a sweat. They don’t need to concentrate. They often spend time talking to a companion while they swing light weights backwards and forwards, using momentum to do most of the work. This will definitely not get you the benefits I talk about here. You need to lift heavy weights.
What weight of dumbbells (or barbells) should I use?
How heavy is heavy? “Heavy weights” are heavy for you, so it varies from person to person. How do you determine what that should be? In general for most exercises you will do 8 to 15 repetitions (reps). You will do 2 to 3 sets, resting for 30 to 90 seconds between each set.
That’s fairly straight forward, but what weights should you use? It’s really simple:
1. Start light. It’s better to be too light than too heavy when you start.
2. Prioritise form over weight. Good form means that you are doing the exercise correctly. You are using the correct muscles for that exercise. It means being aware of how your ankles, knees and pelvis are aligned. It involves being aware of what your back and shoulders are doing. It means not using momentum to swing the weights or leaning back inappropriately.
3. Choose a weight where the last 2 or 3 repetitions in any set are really hard. You couldn’t do any more with proper form.
4. Aim to make progress, so that you gradually increase the weights you lift. You can also make progress by shortening the breaks between sets or increasing the number of reps in each set.
I get great benefits and joy from lifting weights. I post short gym videos on my Instagram account to inspire older women to become as passionate about weight lifting as I am.
First published on Sixty And Me. (January 2020)