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The Essential Guide to Strength Training: Basics for Healthy Aging

Updated: Sep 29, 2023

Man and woman doing strength training mat exercises: planks


The term “strength training” has been widely used in the health space and it has recently even made it as a topic of conversation amongst friends and family, especially for those who are either in or approaching mid-life.

People generally equate strength training with weight training, which is partially correct, however, there is more to strength than a couple of dumbbells.

In this blog post, I will walk you through the basics of strength training, especially as it relates to resilience and healthy aging, and show you how you can start incorporating more of it into your busy schedule.

1. What is Strength Training?

Let’s go back to basics. Strength training, often referred to as resistance or weight training, is a type of exercise that involves contracting muscles against a resistance force. This resistance can come from various sources such as resistance bands, dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, machines like the Pilates Reformer, or simply your own body weight.

As your muscles adapt to the challenges, they become more robust, capable of generating more force, and endure greater loads without experiencing fatigue. As such, strength training is often associated with a progressive increase in load and number of controlled repetitions.

Simply, the more you do, the more you are able to do.

2. Why is Building Strength So Crucial to Healthy Aging?

Strength training is not just about looking more toned, even though that’s a welcome side effect for most! Building muscle serves as a robust foundation for improving physical performance, maintaining metabolic health, and ensuring long-term vitality and healthy aging.

As per a recent meta-analysis conducted by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, “muscle-strengthening activities were associated with a 10–17% lower risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease (CVD), total cancer, diabetes and lung cancer”. The study found that just 30 to 60 minutes a week of strength training may be enough to get the desired results and that combining strength training with cardiovascular exercise provided the highest protection against all-cause mortality.(1)

As we venture into our 30s and 40s, our bodies undergo natural changes. Muscle mass starts to decline, a process called sarcopenia. According to The National Institute of Health, “muscle mass decreases approximately 3–8% per decade after the age of 30 and this rate of decline is even higher after the age of 60.” (2)

Therefore, as we age and muscle mass diminishes, bone density will also decrease, insulin resistance increases, and metabolism slows down. This is where strength training becomes increasingly vital.

Because strength training helps build muscle mass it is linked to a host of health benefits such as improved mobility, better insulin sensitivity, better prevention of chronic conditions, enhanced bone density, and host of other cognitive and emotional benefits.

Let’s first zoom in on the physical benefits from having strong muscles.

3. A Deep Dive into the Physical Function of Muscles in the Body

Think of muscles as the engines of your body. They power your every move, from the most basic to the most complex. But their role goes beyond mobility.

· Muscle health is interlinked with bone health. Whenever muscles are being trained, positive stress is also exerted on the bones leading to a strengthening of bone tissues as well, which in turn protects against osteoporosis as we age.

· Muscles also play a pivotal role in stabilising your joints, reducing the risk of injuries and falls, and supporting your posture, which is increasingly important as you age.

· Muscles are metabolic powerhouses. They burn calories even when you're at rest, helping you maintain a healthy weight.

· Muscles help regulate blood sugar levels. They act as a store for excess glucose in your system. The more muscles you have the better you are able to balance your blood sugar, and the less fat that you will store in your body.

4. The Impact of Strength Training on Cognitive and Emotional Resilience

Strength training isn't just about transforming your body; it has a profound impact on your cognitive and emotional well-being.

· Cognitively, strength training has been linked to protection from brain degeneration, specifically in the hippocampus, a region in the brain responsible for learning and memory. A long-term study conducted by researchers at The University of Sydney found that “strength training led to overall benefits to cognitive performance, benefits linked to protection from degeneration in specific subregions of the hippocampus, which plays a major role in learning and memory. Hence, strength training will help sharpen your ability to focus, retain information, and think for many years to come, slowing down the onset of neurodegenerative disease by years. (3)

· Emotionally, when you engage in strength training, as with most exercise, your body releases endorphins. These natural mood lifters help combat stress and anxiety, making you emotionally stronger. Additionally, the discipline and dedication required for strength training can improve your focus and determination in other aspects of your life.

5. How to Get Started with Strength Training, at Home or at the Gym

The good news is that you don't need to invest hours every day. Starting small and building up is the key, especially for busy working professionals or parents, who have no time to spare. Just do one squat now and you have begun strength training.

Here is a rough plan to help you get started. Begin by setting aside just a few minutes a day on weekdays. It could be as simple as taking 5 minutes while your tea is brewing in the morning. Choose from the following exercises which do not need any equipment, and you can even do them in your pyjamas:

· Lower body: Squats, Lunges, Glute Bridges (Double and Single Leg)

· Upper body: Push ups, Tricep dips

· Core: Plank, Bicycle Crunches, Sit-ups, Leg Raises

If you want to invest in some equipment, you can buy resistance bands or weights to up your strength game. No need to do so until you have established the habit in your daily schedule.

If you prefer going to the gym, that's great too! You can even seek the help of a personal trainer, if that is within your budget, to be guided towards the weights and moves that will challenge you the most.

I personally really enjoy going to Reformer Pilates classes at my local studio. I go for one hour, twice a week, and feel the benefit and improvement as I maintain this rhythm. Committing to a class at a specific time that I have already paid for in advance provides the motivation and accountability that I need to strength train.

There is no one right way. The key is going for what will work for you, and finding a way to stick to a rhythm. Small, manageable steps that fit into your busy lifestyle are what you’re aiming for. With time, you can gradually increase the duration and intensity of your workouts, or experiment with new options.

6. Pushing Yourself Further Every Week to Build More Strength

One of the principles behind strength training success is progressive overload. This means challenging yourself a bit more each time to promote muscle growth.

As you become more comfortable with your initial routine, add a little more weight or do an extra repetition. Your body adapts to the demands placed upon it, so by consistently increasing the challenge, you keep making progress.

Setting achievable goals is crucial. Track your progress, whether it's lifting heavier weights, doing more reps, or increasing your workout frequency. It's these small milestones that lead to significant transformations.

7. Common Strength Training Myths and Misconceptions

In the world of fitness, myths and misconceptions are plenty. It's important to separate fact from fiction to make informed choices about your strength training routine. Here are a few common myths to dispel:

Myth 1: "Strength Training makes women bulky."

This is far from the truth. Women typically lack the hormonal profile required for significant muscle hypertrophy. Strength Training can help women achieve a toned, strong physique without bulking up.

Myth 2: "Cardio is more effective for weight loss."

While cardio is beneficial for burning calories, strength training plays a crucial role in increasing muscle mass, which boosts your metabolism and aids in long-term weight management.

Myth 3: "You have to lift heavy to see results."

While lifting heavier weights can lead to muscle growth, it's not the only path to success. Progressive overload, regardless of the weight used, can lead to improvements in strength and endurance.

8. Overcoming Habit Formation Challenges

Finding the time for strength training can be challenging. However, remember that consistency is more important than the duration of your workouts. Try incorporating small training routines into your day. Habit stacking works well in this instance: for example, doing 10 squats every time the kettle boils, or doing your workout after you brush your teeth in the morning.

Remember, it's not about perfection; it's about progress.

If you are interested in seeking support from a health coach who specialises in helping busy professionals and parents adopt new habits and improve their health outcomes, get in touch!

I am currently offering free 30 mins coaching sessions to help you explore your health goals and map a way forward that works for your specific schedule and preferences. You can book your session directly here:


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