It is easy to see that as medical technology advances we have been able to live longer and longer. That is great news. According to studies by the world bank, the life expectancy in Singapore has gone up from about 66 years in 1960, to about 82 years in 2009.
However, longer life isn't that great. Who cares if I live to be a hundred and ten years old but can't walk, am in chronic pain, can't take care of myself, and need a machine to help me breathe and go to the toilet?
The issue in question no longer becomes length of life, but rather, quality of life.
If a senior client comes to our training center and wants to know what changes they can make to their life to increase it's quality, there is a long list. There are medical tests you can to do check your body's ability to detoxify and digest, there are supplements that can aid your body's ability to recover from stress, and there are food plans to help you manage your blood sugar, body fat and weight.
However, if there was just one top lifestyle change to recommend, it would be strength training. Not cardio, not slow walks in the park, but a safely-designed (according to your current fitness and flexibility level) strength training program. Here are three big reasons why strength training is the right lifestyle habit to learn.
1. Strength training improves upper body strength and lower body power
How many senior citizens do you know who have come home from a walk to the supermarket, suddenly start panting uncontrollably leading to them being unable to take care of themselves? While this is possible, it doesn't happen often at all. Cardio vascular conditioning, while important, is not often an immediate factor in quality of life.
What is far more common, is that a person gets older, weaker from lack of activity, or injury, and then is unable to take care of him/herself. They also have falls due to a lack of lower body strength and power to "catch" themselves if they get off balance for any reason.
Once a fall occurs, it often comes with a break in a major bone like the hips or legs. This leads to more immobility, being bed ridden, having even less strength and a steady decline in physical ability. This is a terrible decrease in quality of life. And strength training can help with these issues.
2. Strength training increases cardiovascular and bone health in minimal time. If you had to choose a form of exercise, strength training is your best bet, at any age, and particularly as you get older.
When done correctly it boosts cardiovascular function. The heart is not a muscle you can train directly. You can't make it do pushups, you can't make it go swimming. The heart only responds to demands placed on it by the rest of the body. So if you do strength training in the right way, your heart will get a great workout without wasting time on the bike or treadmill.
Strength training also boosts bone strength. The healthy stresses placed on the body stimulate bone thickening and strengthening. All the calcium supplements in the world will not be effective if the body is not stimulated to put it on the bones.
3. Strength training puts your body into a positive state. You know one of the "secrets" of celebrities looking young is the addition of growth hormones which can be taken orally or injected. However, the hormonal output of proper strength training programs is also growth hormone! For free!
This hormone tells your body to keep and grow lean, strong muscle and bone, and it also signals your body to drop excess fat. It's "double happiness".
Strength training is far more effective at growth hormone release than long, slow cardiovascular exercises. So it puts your body into a positive hormonal state
Many studies, including one done at the Center of Hip Health and Mobility in Vancouver Canada have found that strength training (which requires more concentration and focus than sitting on a stationary bike) has the ability to boost brain function. Just two times per week was found to boost memory and decision making ability in people aged 65-75 years.
Loss of memory and brain function is a great fear of many seniors I have spoken to, so keeping your brain in a positive state is also a great increase in quality of life.
Emotional health is also boosted by strength training. Yes, other forms of exercise can get you this benefit as well but it comes "for free" along with the other superior benefits of strength training. The chemicals released from your brain during and after training give an increased sense of happiness, relaxation and well being.
With a good training program, it is also cool to see yourself stronger and fitter than you were 30 or 40 years ago! So strength training boosts confidence as well. All these factors put your emotions into a positive state.
There we have it, three BIG reasons why strength training is the best choice for you at any age!