Whenever I meet people in their 50s and 60s and they ask me about fitness, they all seem to hold the same belief: The most important piece of the fitness puzzle for people of their demographic is cardio, they think.
If their cardiovascular fitness is on point, they’ll fend off heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. And if their cardiovascular fitness is on point, they think they’ll be less likely to become overweight.
While I’m not poo poo-ing the benefits of cardiovascular fitness, I would argue there are two pieces of the puzzle that are as important, and possibly even more important, than cardiovascular exercise for the 50-plus crew:
When it comes to quality of life, if your range of motion in your joints are limited, and if your muscles and bones are weak, even if you hold off heart disease through getting your heart rate up going for runs, your life can still be pretty dismal—physically, emotionally, even financially.
If you’re weak and immobile, simple tasks like getting off the toilet, standing up if you fall down, carrying your bags through the airport or even grocery shopping can become difficult, even impossible for some. This physical deterioration generally takes a toll on a person’s emotional state, to the point that they often give up and believe their best days are over—that they don’t have much to live for anymore.
And the financial hit from being weak and immobile at 60 goes well beyond just increasing medical bills. It’s a common experience for older people to renovate their entire house to proof it for being old and weak. Think installing a new, higher toilet just so they can stand up again, or bathroom renovations because they can no longer climb into the shower, or even entirely wheelchair accessible homes. Extreme case: The person must relocate entirely to a home without stairs.
The point is, if you spend money now on learning how to squat, and on keeping your joints moving effectively through a usable range of motion, you will be able to remain in your home and live in it like you were 30 when you’re 75. And with more money in the bank.
But enough with the what will happen if you don’t stay strong and mobile…
Let’s take a look at some of the top benefits you can experience if you keep lifting weights, and keep doing squats, burpees and working on your mobility as you age.
7 Reasons to be mobile and strong as you age
7. More fat loss than cardio
There’s evidence that eating well and weight training helps you lose more fat than aerobic workouts.
This study published in the Journal of Obesity (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/oby.21977) looked at 249 adults in their 60s, all of whom over overweight or obese. It found that restricting their calories plus weight training resulted in significantly more fat loss compared to the group who restricted calories and did aerobic exercise.
6. Don’t break a hip
You probably know falling and breaking a hip when you’re older is bad news. In fact, mortality rates in the year after a hip fracture increase by 25 percent.
The chance of breaking the hip, or any bone for that matter, increases as you age and your bones weaken and become brittle. Worst case scenario is, of course, is osteoporosis. All of this can be prevented with regular strength training, as it helps improve bone mineral density, which is important in fending off osteoporosis.
5. Reduce Chronic pain
If your joints are functioning well and you maintain your flexibility and mobility, your incidence of common afflictions associated with aging, such as lower back pain, decrease significantly. A flexible muscle is also better at absorbing shock, which decreases stress placed on our joints from regular activities as simple as walking.
4. Reduce Acute Injuries
Remember when you were a kid and you broke your arm, and the moment your cast was removed you were good to go—as if the injury never happened?
This is certainly not the case when you’re older. Injuries take longer to heal, and some never totally heal. If you break a foot at 50, for example, there’s a good chance you’ll always walk with a slight limp even after the bone has healed.
Not only that, but injuring yourself when you’re older becomes easier and easier. A slip in the shower or reaching for something in the back seat of your car can sometimes be enough to throw your back out or rip something in your shoulder. Again, maintaining and even increasing your strength, as well as your flexibility, goes a long way in helping fend off acute injuries from happening in the first place.
3. Better Balance
A lack of flexibility can also trigger bad balance, which is a common concern among ageing adults who fear falling. Check out this study about how Yoga, and how increasing flexibility, helps with acquiring better balance: (http://www.ijoy.org.in/article.asp?issn=0973-6131;year=2016;volume=9;issue=1;spage=27;epage=34;aulast=Polsgrove)
2. Improves Blood Glucose and Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 Diabetes is another big concern for many, but especially for older adults who have been abusing their bodies for decades. In fact, age is is one of the risk factors of becoming a Type 2 diabetic.
Resistance training/strength training is a great way to help your body use insulin more efficiently, thus helping keep your blood glucose levels in a normal range. This is because your muscles store glucose, and the glucose you eat in food gets absorbed by your muscle tissue; resistance training and strength training are useful in improving blood sugar levels after meals.
Read more here about strength training and its affect on blood glucose and Type 2 diabetes, and even heart disease (yet another reason to prioritize strength training over conditioning all the time): (https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/strength-training-diabetes).
Strength training helps regulate various functions in your body, such as your resting glucose metabolism, your blood pressure and your metabolic rate, all of which contribute to reduced stress and a better night of sleep. There’s also evidence that it helps you both fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply, as muscle growth and deep sleep are interconnected: When you’re in a deep sleep, it helps your hormone balance, which then helps repair and develop muscle.
This is particularly important when it comes to ageing adults, as older people tend to report more sleep problems than younger folks.
So the next time you’re thinking about going for a brisk walk or a jog to improve your fitness at 50, maybe consider incorporating some squats in there as well.