Lifting weights is the key to aging actively
As much of a challenge as 2020 was for all of us as we grew isolated from each other for protection from the Coronavirus, 2022 was a year that was marked with reunions and reconnecting with people, places and favourite activities.
For me, this meant reuniting with friends from many different parts of my life. In 2022, I attended a Purdue University Football reunion for the first time since I left school in 1990. I attended a weekend of informal reunions with high school classmates in Montreal and I re-connected with others more locally who I had not seen since before the pandemic started. To say that these reunions fed my soul is an understatement. Getting back together with these people was just wonderful beyond words.
While these different reunions were great on a personal level, I found them fascinating on a professional level as well. While my friends, team mates and classmates are all around the same age, the health and fitness of all of them is spread across an incredibly wide spectrum.
I re-connected with 56-year-olds who are still running marathons, skiing, playing hockey, doing martial arts and cycling while others are living with arthritis, metabolic syndrome, back pain, diabetes and heart conditions. It provided me with a fascinating look at the different ways that we all age.
Genetics aside, it made me consider what can be done to increase the odds of living an active, satisfying, comfortable life as we get older. Looking at the martial artists, skiers and runners in the groups, the most common factor in their lives is that they work out. They don’t just “stay active” and exercise; they train with weights with meaning and intention. They also recognize that they can’t do what they did when they were in their teens or 20s, but, they can still do a “heck of a lot!”
Here are some tips that can help slow down the effects of growing older and that can increase your chances of aging actively.
1- It all starts with mindset. Trying to do the same workouts as you did 30 years ago will doom you to failure. It’s not a bad thing, it just means that you need to be a little bit more creative and learn how to increase the work load that you place on your muscles without loading your joints.
2- After mindset, muscle is King. While most older exercisers think of endurance or cardio exercise first, muscle building and strength training will add much more to your quality of life as your ability to complete activities of daily living (and recreational sporting activities) are dependant on your strength. Being strong allows you to do more challenging things with greater confidence and comfort while sparing arthritic joints and backs from being overburdened.
3- Spend quality time on smaller stabilizer muscles. It’s a given that most people in their 50s (or older) will have some osteo-arthritis. Especially if they’ve been living an active life that includes exercise and sport. This makes it critical to include work for the muscles and connective tissue that support the shoulders, lower back, hips and knees. A great way to do this is to include resistance band exercises as part of a warm-up routine for the rotator cuffs, the core and the buttocks before doing any serious lifting.
4- Be a stickler about perfect form and posture. In my practice, I am constantly reminding clients of maintaining proper posture throughout their exercise sessions. The reason for this is to let the “big muscles” of the legs, butt and upper back do the heavy lifting while minimizing the work that is forced upon the spine that occurs when one slouches.
5- Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. As I examined my own workout routine this month, I realized that I was getting a little too comfortable and my workout gains were stalling a bit. I decided that I needed to make myself a little more uncomfortable once or twice each week as a way to gain (or maintain) more muscle and a higher level of conditioning. One of my favourite lessons for people who workout with me is that the body gets stronger, fitter and better when it has to adapt to a new stimulus that it isn’t used to.
6- Accept reality. The reality is that a condition called sarcopenia (age related muscle loss) exists. Without a concerted effort to build and maintain muscle, we can expect to lose 3 to 8 per cent of our muscle mass each decade… starting in our 30s. The more muscle that you lose, the less ability that you’ll have to do the things that you love to do.
Although nothing is guaranteed, we have the ability to tip the scales in our favour and do something about it.
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