HealthAgenda

Physical Health

Why you’re never too old for resistance training

Resistance training is a key part of staying healthy at all ages and stages – but most older Aussies aren’t hitting their quota. Here’s how to integrate it into your daily life.

As you age, staying active can be more challenging than it used to be. You may be dealing with creaky joints and health conditions, perhaps your balance isn’t as good as it used to be, and those extra kilos are harder to keep off.

But when you’re over 65, staying active is one of the most important things you can do – about half of age-related physical decline may be due to not moving enough.

Even among those exercising regularly, few are doing enough or any resistance training. In fact, a 2018 Australian Government report found 84% of older Australians do no resistance training at all.

What is resistance training?

Exercise physiologist Carly Ryan explains resistance training – also known as ‘strength’ or ‘weight training’ – involves “moving your muscles against a force or resistance, stimulating them to get stronger”. She says it’s particularly important for people over the age of 65.

“The research is strongly showing that by doing some kind of resistance training, we can slow or stop that natural – or what people consider to be natural – muscle and bone density loss with age,” she says.

Research shows the average person loses about 3kg of lean muscle every decade from middle age.

What are some examples of resistance training?

The good news is you can make resistance training part of your everyday routine and it won’t cost you a cent. Resistance training can be done in the home – think heavy gardening, yoga, exercises that use your body weight, like push-ups and sit-ups, and lifting weights – anything from gym weights and using resistance bands to moving heavy groceries at home.

“A lot of people think resistance training only involves heavy dumbbells or big machines, and that’s just not the case,” Carly says.

Overcoming resistance

Resistance training can prevent and manage a large number of age-related health issues. As well as reducing losses to bone density and muscle, resistance training helps with managing weight and chronic conditions that become more likely as you age, like heart disease and stroke.

“It’s really important for keeping joints healthy,” Carly says. “It can also help with increased balance and decreased risk of falls or injury, as well as improved sleep, improved mental health and reduced depression.”

So why are older Australians not incorporating resistance training into their lives? Carly points to a lack of awareness of the benefits of weight training, along with fear that it will cause harm.

“The idea of resistance training can probably be a bit intimidating,” she says. “The great thing is that it can be done in short blocks. You can build a lot of these strength activities into your daily activities, like climbing stairs and doing things around the yard.”

How to get started with strength training

No matter how old you are, it’s never too late to get into resistance training. Carly recommends two to three resistance training sessions per week, which can be done in 10-minute blocks. Get started with these three strength exercises and remember to:

  • start slowly and increase over time
  • aim to target most major muscle groups: legs, back, core and arms
  • plan how you’ll build opportunities for resistance training into your day and set aside time to do it.

“If you’ve got any concerns or medical conditions, and you don’t know where to start, talk to your GP,” says Carly. “They’ll be able to direct you to an appropriate exercise professional.”

Simple resistance exercise to do from home

1.    Sit to stand

Stand in front of a chair, then slowly sit down – don’t drop into the chair – then stand up again. Repeat 10 times.

Health wins: Strengthens legs and builds balance.

2.    Wall push-ups

Place your hands on a wall shoulder-width apart, standing slightly back from the wall. Raise your heels off the floor a little. Keeping your body straight, let your chest move towards the wall, then push back out with your arms. Aim to do two sets of eight to 10 push-ups at a time.

Health wins: Strengthens upper body and builds stability.

3.    Hip raises

Lie on your back on the bed and bend your knees so your feet are flat. Squeeze your tummy in a little and squeeze your bottom, then lift your hips so your shoulders, hips and knees are in a straight line. Aim to hold for 30 seconds or lift up and down a few times as you build up to the full hold.

Health wins: Strengthens glutes and core.

Need help improving your diet and fitness?

Eligible HCF members can get free access to weight management and joint pain programs to help prevent and manage chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart-related conditions, osteoarthritis (knee or hip) and joint pain (requiring surgery). Read more about our Healthy Weight for Life and email our team at wellbeing@hcf.com.au to find out if you’re eligible.

Words by Trudie McConnochie
This article first appeared in the March 2021 edition of Health Agenda magazine.

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