Did you know that weight training helps seniors live longer? A study found that when people aged over 65 did strength training twice a week, they reduced the risk of dying by nearly 50%. In fact, 46% of people who lifted weights were less likely to die than those who didn’t, according to the 15-year-long study by Penn State College of Medicine. This is because weight training strengthens muscles, helping to improve balance and stamina, which consequently increases bone density.

The study included data covering over 30,000 adults that were aged 65 and older. Nearly 10% of the adults did strength training at least twice a week, consistent with guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association.

Weight Training Helps Seniors Live Longer

Any senior can start lifting weights, and improve their health, strength, stamina and mobility. After all, one 78-year-old in Illinois only started weight training two years ago, and can now lift a 225-pound weight. The American College of Sports Medicine encourages weight training for anyone over the age of 50, even those in their 90s.

The benefits of weightlifting for seniors

Weight training not only helps seniors to build muscle, lose fat and improve sleep, but it also makes a significant difference to bone density. Bone strength is hugely important as it can affect independence, as hip fractures are the main cause for seniors to be admitted to nursing homes.

Three particular exercises that can be helpful to increase bone density in the spine and hips are:

  • Squats: You can do squats by holding a dumbbell in front of your chest, using an exercise ball against a wall, or a conventional barbell back squat.
  • Lunges or Step-ups: Lunges that involve using your hip and leg muscles while balancing on one leg with a weight added, is a great way to help prevent falls. Just like with lunges, a step-up involves a single leg to push your body weight in the air, while you hold a weight. You can use an actual stepper, or even just a chair or bench will be sufficient.
  • Overhead Press: Pressing dumbbells overhead is a great way to load the skeleton and stimulate bone growth. Great for your arms and shoulders, too!

Other benefits of weight training include:

  • A study of seniors by University of Vermont found that after 12 weeks of weight training, people could walk around 40% further without needing a rest.
  • Research by Appalachian State University discovered that lifting weights can have huge benefits for the heart.
  • University of Alabama researchers, found that healthy female seniors aged between 60 and 77, could carry their groceries and get up from a sitting position much easier after lifting weights for three hours each week over 16 weeks.
  • By strengthening the muscles, tendons, and ligaments, weightlifting can dramatically improve a person’s range of motion and ease arthritis. It can also help to reduce pain by easing stress on the affected joint.
  • Lifting weights may not burn a lot of calories, however, it does give the metabolism a big boost. But combining a healthy diet with weight training can help overweight seniors lose weight.

Strength training tips for seniors

Weight Training Helps Seniors Live Longer

When using weights, take around three seconds to steadily lift or push the weight into place. Then hold this position for about one second, and then take three seconds to come back to your starting position. Don’t let the weight drop. You should also remember to breathe out as you lift or push a weight, and then breathe in as you relax. Always use steady actions to bring the weights into position, avoiding any jerky movements.

Building Strength

To build strength, you should steadily increase the amount of weight you are using. Start off by using a weight you can only lift about eight times. Keep using it until you are able to easily lift it for two sets of ten to 15 lifts. Then add more weight so you can initially only manage to lift it eight times. Carry on with this method until you reach your lifting goal.

Weight Lifting Safety Tips

  • Avoid locking your knees. Tighten your thigh muscles to protect your knees.
  • If you find that your arms start to feel tired, use one arm at a time.  Alternate sides before working your way back up to using both at the same time.
  • If you have arthritis and holding weights hurts your hands, switch to using wrist weights instead.
  • If some exercises need a chair, use one that is solid and sturdy and that can support your weight either when you are holding on to it or sitting on it.

Getting Started With Strength Training

If you want to get started, check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise regime. But most seniors, even those with high blood pressure or osteoporosis, can benefit from strength training. Enjoy the way it transforms your health and wellbeing!


personal training helpIf you’d like some information about starting a strength training program for seniors, contact Basics and Beyond fitness & nutrition.