Why is strength training important as we age?

Everyone would benefit from being stronger. Here’s why. Muscle mass decreases between 3% and 8% per decade after the age of 30 and this speeds up if you’re over 60. But why is that important? Why is strength important for everyone? Doing strengthening exercises isn’t about getting big muscles. It…

Reading Time: 6 min.

Why is strength training important as we age?

Everyone would benefit from being stronger. Here’s why.

Muscle mass decreases between 3% and 8% per decade after the age of 30 and this speeds up if you’re over 60. But why is that important?

Why is strength important for everyone?

Doing strengthening exercises isn’t about getting big muscles. It is hugely beneficial for everyone to be stronger, to a point where there is very rarely a single patient we see who wouldn’t benefit from getting a bit stronger in some (or all) of their muscles.

Yes, stronger muscles help you move things, perhaps lift things in the garden, at work, or lift the grandchildren, but it’s a lot more important than that.

It also helps protect your joints and take the pressure off them. The stronger your muscles, the less pressure goes through joints like your knees, and hips. The stronger the muscles in your core and back, the less pressure goes through the joints of your spine and your discs. Less pressure through joints generally means better movement, and less pain.

You don’t have to lift big weights in the gym (though you can if you enjoy that), but doing some gentle exercises with some light weights, or just using your body weight at home each day will make a world of difference.

Why is strength training particularly important as we age?

Because your muscles are naturally weakening and shrinking as you get older, working to maintain strength as you age, becomes progressively more important.

It can help prevent pain by supporting joints, it can help reduce the risks of falls, it can reduce the impact any arthritis has and it can keep you moving well which helps you maintain a healthy weight, and blood pressure. Perhaps most importantly, it keeps you able to do the things you want to do for far longer.

How often should you do strengthening exercises?

If you are doing gentle body weight strengthening exercises, they can safely be done most, if not everyday. You could do them 5 days per week perhaps. If you are doing more intense weight training, then 3-4 times per week is usually fine.

What are the best strengthening exercises to do?

Below, we’ve set out our favourite, simple, home exercises that can be used to strengthen key parts of the body. Some are big movements, some much smaller, but they are all working on parts of the body we often discover are weak in our patients. Those weaknesses are responsible for a lot of the pain we see even in people who are quite active.

Chair Squat (great for strengthening your legs)

Leg strengthening exercise

Starting position: Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart, with your feet turned out very slightly. Have a chair positioned behind you and your arms held out in front of you. Exercise: Squat down by hinging at the hips (ie stick your bottom out) with your torso inclined forwards. Aim to keep your lower legs as vertical as possible. Keep going down until you feel your bottom just touch the chair, and then stand up again. Try to keep your knees in line with your toes. If this is too difficult then sit down fully, and then stand from sitting. Repeat 10 times.

Wall push ups (great for strengthening your shoulders and upper back)

Shoulder strengthening exercise

Starting position: Stand facing a wall with your feet shoulder width apart and far enough away from the wall that you have to lean into the wall slightly to reach it. To make the exercise harder, move your feet further away from the wall. To make it easier, move them closer. Place your hands flat against the wall, with your arms parallel to the ground and torso leaning into the wall Exercise: Pull your shoulders blades together and then do a press up movement, only going as far as you’re comfortable then return to the first position. Repeat 10 times.

Single arm shoulder press (great for strengthening your shoulders particularly if you’re finding it hard reach up into cupboards or hang washing for example)

Shoulder strengthening exercises

Starting position: Sit or stand with your arm by your side, and your elbow flexed, holding a dumbell (if you have them) or a bottle of water or tin of beans for example if you don’t. Exercise: Slowly push the weight upwards and slightly forwards as high as you can, hold for a moment and then slowly return to the starting position. Repeat 10 times on each side. Choose a weight that means on the 9th or 10 repetition that it’s getting hard to do.

Deep neck flexor strengthening (great for anyone who has neck pain (or wants to avoid it))

Neck strengthening exercise

Starting position: Lie on your back . The bed is fine if you don’t want to lie on the floor. Exercise: Tuck your chin backwards (same motion as the chin retraction exercise from the stretching and mobility section). Keeping that position, slowly lift your head to reduce the pressure on the back of your head against the surface you’re lying on, without fully lifting the head up. Hold for as long as you are comfortable doing so and then slowly relax. Repeat three times.

Clam (great for strengthening your glutes, which is great for your lower back, and all lower limb problems)

hip strengthening exercise

Starting position: Lie on your side with your knees bent to 90 degrees and your hips bent to 45 degrees. Exercise: Lift your top knee off your bottom knee whilst keeping your heals together and your pelvis and lower back steady. Lift the knee until you feel you need to rotate the hips (avoid that as it’s no longer an effective exercise). Hold for a second and then slowly lower the knee. Repeat 10 times on each side.

One Leg Stretch (great for strengthening your core muscles that support your lower back).

best core exercise

Starting position: Lie on your back with your knees bent up and your feet on the floor (or the bed is fine too) Exercise: Draw in the muscles of your lower abdomen (tip imagine you’re stopping yourself having a wee) so it’s a deep contraction not a holding your breath clenching! Then lift one foot slightly off the floor, and slowly straighten the leg, keeping the muscles in your abdomen tight. Slowly return to the starting position and then repeat with the other leg until you’ve done 10 on each side. Note: Make sure you keep breathing and your lower back and pelvis aren’t moving during the exercise. It’s all about control.

Get the most out of your exercise and make sure you’re safe

When you’re doing a strengthening exercise, generally you’ll find the slower you do the movement, the harder it is. Momentum makes movements much easier, and so eliminating that makes the muscles work harder. That means you’ll get more benefit.

If you don’t feel confident doing any of the exercises, please do not do them. They are a generic guide, and have not been prescribed for your specific ability or condition.

We would suggest doing the exercises in a circuit. Ie do one exercise after another with a short rest in between (about 30 seconds). Ideally, you’d do the circuit 2-3 times with a longer rest between the circuits (about 2 minutes). The timings aren’t too important. Take the time you need. After all, getting them done, even if it takes a bit longer, is still better than not doing them at all.

Depending on your current level of fitness, you may find these very easy or very hard. The exercises are hitting all the right areas, so try to adapt them to make them easier or harder as you need to, or get in touch with your nearest Physiotherapy clinic if you want more specific help.

I hope you’ve found this useful. Whatever exercise you choose to do, please include strengthening exercises. You can’t go wrong getting strong as they say!

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