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Build Muscle To Help You Live Longer

There’s no doubt that cardiovascular fitness can help you live longer. But you may be surprised to learn that strength training also can play a key role in longevity and quality of life.

About 30 percent of adults older than 70 have difficulty with simple everyday activities, including walking and getting out of a chair. A major factor in that is your body’s natural loss of muscle (a process called sarcopenia) that starts gradually somewhere in your 30s, and then accelerates once you move into your 60s and 70s.

This loss of muscle mass and strength is inevitable. But that doesn’t mean you can’t slow it down substantially through strength training, which includes any activity that forces your muscles to contract while lifting a weight. That can be accomplished in many ways, including:

  • Weightlifting (with machines or free weights)
  • Medicine balls
  • Resistance bands
  • Body weight-bearing exercises

What You’ll Gain

Strength training (also known as resistance training) can help you in several ways. It’s not so much about building muscle mass, but rather about strengthening your muscles and core. This makes you stronger, while avoiding loss of joint flexibility. It also improves your body’s capacity for transporting and using oxygen during exercise, helping with overall fitness.

Studies have shown that strength training can boost the health of your nervous system and brain. It also can reduce the risk of falls, improve your cardiovascular function, help with weight loss, boost bone density and provide a strong mental health outlet.

You may see relatively quick benefits simply by adding 20 minutes of weight training two or three days a week.

Build a Workout Plan

You have many options when building your strength-training workout plan. One thing to keep in mind is your own physical limitations. If you are 60 years old and working out at the gym, don’t try to match the efforts of someone 30 years younger. We all age differently, so let your body guide what you can and can’t do.

And if you haven’t been active for a while, it wouldn’t hurt to talk with your doctor about your exercise goals.

An ideal approach would be a combination of resistance exercises that progress in difficulty over time. People typically work with free weights or resistance machines to build muscle mass. But for core strength and stability, there’s a lot that can be done with body-weight exercises or plyometrics. The end goal – to increase strength and mobility – is what’s important.

It's easy to find videos online that demonstrate how to do the following exercises:

Body weight exercises

  • Pushups
  • Wall pushups
  • Squats to chair
  • Lying hip bridges
  • Planks

Dumbbell exercises

  • Triceps extensions
  • Arm curls
  • Overhead press
  • Front raises
  • Bent-over rows

Plyometric exercises

  • Step up
  • Knee raises
  • Medicine ball toss
  • Push up to stand
  • Jumping

Avoiding Injury

One of the most important things you can do to avoid injury is to work on your core stability. It’s tempting to focus on the larger muscles, like quadriceps and shoulders. But you shouldn’t neglect your core – those muscles found in the central part of your body, including pelvis, lower back, hips and stomach. Having a strong core will give your body support for other exercises you want to do.

One of the advantages of core strengthening is that you don’t need exercise equipment or a gym membership. You can boost your core through relatively simple exercises, including planks and sit-ups, at home.

As you get older, you may also find that some exercises are too stressful for your body. This includes deadlifts, lunges, squats and anything else that puts a lot of pressure on your knees. This is particularly true if you have a history of knee pain, early arthritis or meniscus tears. For exercises involving your knees, it may be safer to focus on gym machines for seated leg curls and seated leg extensions.

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