My parents are in their late 60s, but they remain in very good shape. They’re avid travelers, which regularly requires them to walk 10-15 miles in a day, with stairs and hills climbed, bags toted, etc.
Primarily, they’ve kept fit with ‘cardio’ workouts in their living room, using Leslie Sansone’s solid and much-loved Walk at Home DVDs (or, as my brother calls it, ‘frumping to the oldies.’)
However, recent research has made clear that also focusing on strength training is particularly important as we age. As one recent review paper put it:
Strength-training exercises have the ability to combat weakness and frailty and their debilitating consequences. Done regularly [it] builds muscle strength and muscle mass, and preserves bone density, independence, and vitality with age. In addition, strength training also has the ability to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and the signs and symptoms of numerous chronic diseases such as heart disease, arthritis, and type 2 diabetes, while also improving sleep and reducing depression.
In short, strength training is powerful stuff. And as further research has shown, those benefits are specific to lifting weights; it’s not sufficient to simply maintain a high level of physical activity in general.
So I suggested that my parents also consider hitting the gym once or twice a week. To which my mother replied that they do currently use dumbbells in those Sansone workouts. While that’s great, I clarified that she needed to go to the gym to focus on progressive overload. The health improvements of strength training come from consistently increasing the weight used over time; thus, if you’re using the same ten-pound dumbbells month after month, you’re no longer reaping the same benefits.
To illustrate, here’s an amazing pair of before and after MRI scans showing the increase in leg muscle mass after just twelve weeks of weight training, in a 92-year-old subject. (!!!)
If you want to live longer, healthier, then staying active (in a general, ‘use it or lose it’ sort of way) is hugely important. But adding in weight training, too, is an extremely powerful tool. And, as the scans show, it’s never too late to start.