Why Strength Training is Crucial as You Age

Why Strength Training is Crucial as You Age

As our bodies age, the pursuit of maintaining not just our health but our independence becomes a top priority. Strength training, often overshadowed by its more popular counterpart, cardiovascular fitness, emerges as a crucial ally in this quest. This form of exercise, encompassing resistance training and weight lifting, is not just about building muscle mass; it’s a key player in preserving flexibility, mobility, and overall vitality. The significance of strength training extends beyond the superficial, fostering a sense of competence and self-reliance that is invaluable as one grows older.

Exploring the Decline in Physical Abilities

As individuals age, a natural decline in physical abilities occurs, significantly impacting flexibility, balance, and metabolism. These changes affect daily activities and overall quality of life, making it crucial to understand and address them effectively.

Decrease in Flexibility and Balance

One of the most noticeable changes as we age is the decrease in flexibility. This results from several factors, including a loss of water in our tissues and spine, increased stiffness in our joints, and a loss of elasticity in muscle tendons and surrounding tissue. Such reductions in flexibility can lead to decreased physical activity as individuals no longer feel capable of performing activities they once enjoyed. This can further lead to a slower walking speed, shorter steps, back pain, and an increased risk of falls. Research suggests that implementing a stretching program specifically for the front hip muscles can significantly improve walking speed and step length, thereby enhancing balance and reducing fall risks.

Muscle mass and strength also decline with age, with losses between 30% to 50% from ages 30 to 80. This reduction is primarily due to a decrease in the number of muscle fibres and the atrophy of type II muscle fibres. Consequently, these changes lead to early fatigue, weakness, and a reduced tolerance to exercise, compounding the risks associated with decreased flexibility.

Changes in Metabolism

Metabolism also slows down with age, affecting how the body converts food into energy. From around 30 years old, individuals might notice it becomes harder to lose weight due to less physical activity and a natural loss of muscle mass, which burns calories at a lower rate. By the age of 40, the body naturally begins to lose muscle mass—a process known as sarcopenia—even if one remains active. This reduction in muscle mass is replaced by fat, further slowing down the metabolism.

The ageing process also brings about significant changes in body composition, such as increases in body fat and reductions in lean tissue, affecting metabolic functions. Resting energy expenditure (REE) decreases with age, disproportionately to the lesser amounts of lean tissue observed in older adults. This decrease in daily energy expenditure contributes to weight gain and associated health risks if not managed through a balanced diet and regular physical activity.

Understanding these changes is essential for developing strategies to maintain health and independence as we age, highlighting the importance of strength training and regular physical activity to mitigate the adverse effects of ageing on physical abilities.

Positive Impacts of Strength Training

Strength training not only enhances physical capabilities but also significantly boosts mental health, sleep quality, and longevity, making it a vital component of a healthy ageing process.

Boosting Mental Health

Regular strength training has been shown to improve physical and mental health in older adults. Exercise is widely recognized for its ability to elevate mood due to the release of ‘happy’ chemicals like dopamine and serotonin in the brain. Moreover, systematic reviews have found that resistance training programs can lead to significant improvements in depression rates among older adults. Research also indicates a positive impact on other mental health conditions, including anxiety, schizophrenia, ADHD, and PTSD, providing a comprehensive benefit that extends beyond physical health.

Enhancing Sleep Quality

The benefits of strength training also extend to sleep quality, particularly among older adults with depression. Randomised controlled trials have demonstrated that resistance exercises contribute to better sleep patterns. This improvement is linked to the fatigue reduction and mood enhancement provided by regular physical activity. Additionally, studies have shown that a regular exercise regimen can lead to increased brain volume and enhanced cognitive functions, which in turn support healthier sleep cycles.

Increasing Longevity

Research underscores the significant impact of strength training on longevity. A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine revealed that individuals who combined aerobic activities with regular strength training sessions experienced the lowest risk of mortality, suggesting a synergistic effect that enhances overall health. Furthermore, transitioning from a sedentary lifestyle to engaging in strength training can be as beneficial as quitting smoking in terms of mortality risk reduction. This highlights the profound potential of strength training to extend life expectancy and improve the quality of life in older adults.

By integrating strength training into their weekly routines, individuals can not only fend off the physical declines associated with ageing but also enjoy enhanced mental health and longer, healthier lives.

Setting Up a Strength Training Program

a woman on a leg press machine mid movement

Embarking on a strength training journey doesn’t necessitate a drastic alteration to your lifestyle. You can either opt for structured sessions at a gym or seamlessly integrate resistance activities into your daily routine. For instance, incorporating simple bodyweight exercises like squats during short breaks throughout the day can significantly enhance your strength without disrupting your schedule.

Frequency and Duration Recommendations

The American College of Sports Medicine advises that strength training should be conducted at least twice a week, ensuring these sessions are not on consecutive days to allow muscle recovery. This routine aligns with findings that even two or three sessions per week can substantially benefit muscle strength and overall health, particularly for individuals over 50. For those new to strength training, beginning with modest, manageable workouts and gradually increasing the intensity is crucial. This approach helps in adapting to the new physical demands without overwhelming the body.

Importance of Consistency

Maintaining consistency in your strength training routine is vital for achieving long-term health benefits. Consistent training not only helps build strength but also aids in sustaining mobility and independence as you age. To ensure a comprehensive workout, it is recommended to include a variety of exercises targeting the upper body, lower body, and core. Engaging in these activities regularly, ideally three times a week for about 20 to 30 minutes, can lead to significant improvements in physical health and can delay the onset of age-related conditions.

Remember, before initiating any new exercise regimen, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional. They can provide personalised advice based on your current health status and fitness goals. Starting slowly, focusing on proper form, and gradually increasing the intensity of workouts can help prevent injuries and ensure the effectiveness of your strength training program.

Support and Resources

Finding Local Programs and Trainers

For many older adults, engaging in physical activities can be a social and healthful endeavour. Local organisations like Age UK offer a variety of exercise classes tailored to different levels of fitness and mobility. These classes not only help maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of falls but also provide social opportunities to meet new people. Classes range from gentle seated exercises to more dynamic options like dance, Pilates, yoga, and Tai Chi. Each is designed to enhance flexibility, balance, and strength, accommodating everyone from beginners to those more accustomed to physical activity.

Community centres and local health clubs often host walking clubs and walking football teams, providing structured social gatherings that encourage physical fitness. These groups cater to a range of abilities and offer a supportive environment to stay active while fostering community connections.

Online Resources and Communities

In today’s digital age, staying active at home has never been easier, thanks to a plethora of online resources. Websites like Move it or Lose it specialise in senior fitness, offering classes that improve balance, strength, and aerobic health. These classes can be tailored to individual needs, whether seated or standing, ensuring that everyone can participate regardless of their physical condition.

Organisations such as Later Life Training provide detailed schedules for courses across the UK, and if none are available nearby, they offer the possibility of notifying interested parties when new courses open. They also tailor courses for local needs and offer specialised training for professionals working with older adults, emphasising strength, balance, and fitness as essential components of healthy ageing.

For those who prefer the comfort of their home, online platforms like Helping Hands provide not only exercise videos but also personalised support for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, from physical exercises to nutritional advice. This support is crucial for those who may need encouragement or assistance in their fitness journeys, making it possible to improve physical health and well-being from the safety and comfort of home.


Through this exploration, we’ve unearthed the profound benefits of strength training in counteracting the adverse effects of ageing. Incorporating a regimen of resistance training and weight lifting not only bolsters physical health by enhancing muscle strength, flexibility, and metabolism, but also offers mental health benefits, improved sleep quality, and a potential increase in longevity. This comprehensive approach to fitness ensures that individuals are not merely surviving but thriving as they age, securing their independence and enhancing their quality of life.


1. Why should older adults prioritise strength training?
As we age, we naturally lose muscle mass, strength, and physical stamina. Incorporating strength and resistance training exercises can help older adults preserve their muscle mass, enhance mobility, and reduce health risks associated with ageing.

2. What are the benefits of strength training during midlife?
Strength training is a cost-effective exercise that significantly benefits women’s health during midlife. It helps maintain functional independence, elevates mood, improves sleep quality, preserves muscle and bone strength, and aids in maintaining a healthy weight.

3. Is age a factor in maintaining muscle strength?
Regardless of activity level, muscle mass and strength typically begin to decline as we age. This decline generally starts around the ages of 30 to 35.

4. How does strength training benefit cognitive health in older adults?
Resistance training is highly beneficial for older adults as it enhances muscle strength, helps combat sarcopenia, and positively affects the brain. It can lead to functional improvements in the brain and may help in preventing structural atrophy, thereby supporting cognitive health.

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