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The What & Why of Strength Training?

You don't have to lift weights like a bodybuilder to see the benefits of strength training.

According to the NHS, a strength exercise is any activity that makes your muscles work harder than usual. This increases your muscles' strength, size, power and endurance. The activities involve using your body weight or working against a resistance.

Even if you're someone who does exercise regularly, chances are you skip strength training. It's recommended that adults undertake muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week to increase bone strength and muscular fitness.

Strength training can do wonders for the body, including helping prevent the loss of bone quality and density. It can also increase your metabolism (burning more calories when you're not doing anything), lower your body fat and protect you from some of the major causes of early death.

If you haven't done any strength training for a while, or even if you've never done it before, it's never too late to start!

Strength Training as you Age

Being physically active and having good muscle strength in middle age are among the strongest predictors of a longer lifespan.

Muscle mass naturally diminishes with age (a process called Sarcopenia) and you'll increase your % of body fat if you don't do anything to replace the muscle you lose over time. Therefore, it is even more important to keep up, or start strength training as you age.

From about 55, we lose about 1% of muscle mass each year and it degrades even faster once we hit 60. No matter how old or out of shape you are, you can restore much of the strength you already lost and unlike your chronological age, you can turn back the clock on your fitness age.

Your muscles and bones are inextricably linked so when you lose muscle, you're more at risk of osteoporosis, arthritis, chronic back pain, frailty and fractures. It's also been argued that it can help prevent dementia with its brain-boosting side effects.

Strength Training for Bone Health

As you lose muscle with age (a process called sarcopenia) your bones become brittle. The same factors that help you maintain muscle are the same factors that keep your bones strong and dense.

According to the Royal Osteoporosis Society, progressive resistance training, where you increase resistance over time, is likely to be the best type of muscle strengthening exercise for bone strength

Known risk factors for Osteoporosis and broken bones include; age, being female and certain medical conditions

Age:
  • From your late thirties, the amount of bone tissue/bone density you have starts to naturally decrease.

  • As you get older, your bone tissue loses strength and becomes more likely to break.

Women:
  • Osteoporosis and broken bones are more common in women than men.

  • Your bones lose strength at a faster rate after the menopause because oestrogen levels decrease, the hormone that keeps your bones healthy.

  • Women live longer so are more likely to live with the lower bone strength that comes with age.

  • Women tend to have smaller bones than men and having bigger bones is found to reduce the risk of breaking them.

Medical conditions:

The following medical conditions all put you at higher risk of low bone density.

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

  • Lower oestrogen levels (early menopause, hysterectomy, anorexia nervosa)

  • Lower testosterone levels

  • Hyperthyroidism

  • Crohn’s/Coeliac disease

  • Conditions that cause long periods of immobility, such as stroke