The Many Benefits of Strength Training… Even For You, Graybeard

No more excuses! Studies show that there are many benefits of strength training for older adults. Tim Carrigan did it, and so can you.

Chin ups at any age

A COUPLE of months ago I tore out an article from the Wall Street Journal written by Laura Johannes, entitled, The Benefits of Pumping Iron Later in Life. “Right up my alley”, I muttered to “Puppy”, my nickname for my niece’s cat whom I was catsitting.

Although it’s true that once we get much past 40, I recommend the weight we lift should be more our weight and less iron weight, the most important thing is that you strength train in whatever form is appealing enough for you to do consistently.

Bodyweight training is great because your body is typically nearby and available. A guy weighing 180 pounds, or a gal weighing 140 pounds has plenty of weight to lift.  If done properly, there’s less chance for injury than when you “get under the bar”.

All that said, I still like to grab the bar and hoist it here and there, and so should you if that’s your preference, as it is for Tim Carrigan, as we’ll see in a moment.

The byline of Ms. Johannes’ article is:

Intense Strength Training Helps Fend Off Age-Related Disability, Research Shows.

“That’s right”, I muttered to Puppy as she looked blankly at nothing in particular, “This is a big reason I exhibit very few of the physical attributes of a man of my chronological age”, I boasted.  (If Puppy could yawn…)

The Wall Street Journal article profiles Tim Carrigan, who when he reached 50, suffered lower back so severe that he could barely walk. Like many injuries that become more pronounced as we age, Carrigan’s happened in a childhood accident.

The pain was intermittent and the muscle tone that was lost happened slowly, but finally he realized that needed to do something.

Here’s Carrigan doing something:

Tim Carrigan found relief from back pain and started sleeping better when he began strength training twice a week.

Photo Credit: Bob O’Connor for The Wall Street Journal

He did strength training twice a week on a circuit of a dozen of weight machines. Two times per week of strength training is the minimum required to improve strength and body composition, and to get on track for experiencing the many benefits of strength training.

Soon, Carrigan was feeling better, stronger, and sleeping better.

This is completely unsurprising.

In The Anti-aging Effects of Exercise, I concluded:

… with exercise, you get less fat, more mobility, greater strength, and resistance to dreaded old age diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s…. Given that in the United States, only 5% of adults are meeting what might be described as minimal physical activity guidelines, and with the obesity statistics getting absurd, it’s time to join the minority and have a long, strong life.


You Can Do It!

Women can chin

Once upon a time there was some bunk circulating in the ether that said older adults were too frail to pump iron. Now the research demonstrates that strength training helps stave off age-related disability, preserve bone mass (particularly) in women and even boosts brainpower.

“It’s way more dangerous to not be active as an older adult,” says Miriam Nelson, professor of nutrition at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy in Boston. (1)

She sure is right, and so get a handle on the following six pointers and strength training benefits culled from the aforementioned Wall Street Journal article (2):

  1. You can train intensely and safely at any age as long as you prepare right and exercise with good form. A healthy person at 60 can gain two to three pounds of lean muscle in as short as six months, and this is without optimizing nutrition.
  2. Beyond their physical benefits, cardiovascular workouts aid in memory tasks and strength training boosts “executive function” or higher-level brain tasks.
  3. Strength training can improve mobility and reduce pain in arthritic joints.
  4. When strength training, older adults should ingest 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, spread throughout the day. Take two-thirds of your weight in pounds, and the resulting number is roughly your daily protein per day in grams.
  5. Make sure you don’t begin your exercise regimen injured.  Although exercise can speed up the healing process, you must know what you’re doing and should be guided by a trainer, physical therapist or doctor if you’re injured or are otherwise encumbered.
  6. Know the proper form.  Don’t necessarily copy what others are doing in the gym, because many people do not use proper form.  Get a trainer to show you how to exercise. It’s worth the expense.

OK, now tuck some inspiration under your belt, grab a buddy and together find someone to initiate you to the marvels of strength training.

If you still need to grease the skids a bit, start with part one of my six part series:

The Functionally Fit Fast Workout — Strong, Enduring, Mobile (Part I)

Have fun!

Last Updated on March 13, 2018 by Joe Garma

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Joe Garma

I help people live with more vitality and strength. I'm a big believer in sustainability, and am a bit nutty about optimizing my diet, supplements, hormones and exercise. To get exclusive Updates, tips and be on your way to a stronger, more youthful body, join my weekly Newsletter. You can also find me on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 7 comments
Tip - May 26, 2015

Hi Joe,

I started reading your website back around November last year, and you have inspired me to get up off my ass and start exercising. I am 63 years old, and have been really feeling the effects of my life of inactivity. My “aging” was showing and it scared me.

I moved to the Philippines in March this year and, soon after, joined a local gym. The gym owner insisted that I get a doctor’s approval to start exercising, and once I got that, the gym owner started me on a program to gently ease me back into fitness. I think your advice to hire a good trainer is absolutely key for someone like me, as I can’t start off doing the things I could do when I was younger. The trainer knows what I should and shouldn’t do, and moves me along at a pace that is safe yet beneficial.

This article of yours is spot on and I encourage your older readers to heed your advice. I already feel better now than I have in so many years. I still have a long way to go to regain much of my strength, agility, flexibility and balance. But I am already enjoying noticeable improvement in all these areas.

Thanks for your tireless encouragement with this blog to get up and do something.

    Joe Garma - May 26, 2015

    Tip, yours is among the finest “testimonials” I’ve ever received, and I thank you for it!

    The greatest compliment, though, should go to you, because you did something w/ what you learned. I heard someone say that he heard Tony Robbins — the human potential motivator, or however he’s identified — lament that some low single-digit percentage of his clients, customers et al actually implement what he teaches, and he’s very frustrated by it. My point is that blueprints are printed everywhere, but few build something with them.

    Glad you are.

    May I quote parts of your Comment in my Newsletter?

      Tip - May 27, 2015

      Joe, feel free to quote me anywhere that it would be useful. I just wanted to add a rousing “Here! Here!” to your encouragement for us older guys. Of course, I hope the younger guys are also taking your advice too! 🙂

Ellie Davis - May 25, 2018

Thank you for pointing out that you can train intensely as long as you are preparing right, and exercise with good form. My sister has been wanting to do some strength training and I think she would love it. Hopefully, she finds a trainer that can help with this.

    Joe Garma - May 26, 2018

    Ellie, just remember that you need to walk before you run; meaning in this case that your sister (or anyone else) first needs to become familiar with the particular exercise regimen she’s intending to do before cranking up the intensity. Go slow. Doing so will not only help prevent injuries but improve consistency (if you hate it, you’ll stop doing it).

Sherry Gajos - July 10, 2018

I like what you said about strength training twice per week is the minimum required to improve strength and body composition. My dad is getting older and we decided to work out together and see if we can improve how we feel and our energy. Thanks for the information about how strength training can help people like my dad increase their resistance to diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s.

    Joe Garma - July 10, 2018

    Sherry, your dad is lots more compliant than was mine. Remember… if your dad is new to exercise (or the type you expect to do together), don’t overwhelm him and try to choose routines that he can enjoy. The best program is worthless if not done.


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