The difference between your life span and your play span is primarily determined by your strength levels. Without strength training we lose 1% of our muscle mass every year after age 30.
As we lose muscle we lose our ability to move, our independence and quality of life. Additionally, declining muscle equals declining metabolic health increasing the odds and/or severity of chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension. This is primarily because insulin resistance increases as we lose muscle and drive diabetes, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, etc.
No matter how many aches, pains or replaced joints you may have you can still safely dip into the fountain of youth that is strength training. Here are five tips from my mother (and super grandmother) and me to help you make the rest of your years the best of your years.
1. Listen to your body not your brain: seek the sweet spot where you are both safe and pushing yourself hard enough that your body changes. Learn to differentiate between joint pain and muscular discomfort.
2. Keep track: if it doesn’t challenge you it does not change you. Over time what constitutes a challenge for your body will evolve, or progress will halt and/or reverse. Keep track of what you’re doing and seek to do more or more challenging versions. For example, in the beginning you might need assistance (to hold on to something) to do 10 body-weight squats, but before long you won’t need that assistance anymore, and in time you will be able to increase your depth, and eventually add some additional weight, and so on.
3. Train movements not muscles: doing one exercise for your biceps (front of arm), and one for your triceps (back of arm), and 20-30 more exercises for the other major muscles in your body becomes overwhelming quickly. What’s more is that trying to isolate these muscles doesn’t train your body to move better in real life. So, instead of a bicep exercise, try a pulling exercise (like a row or a very assisted version of a pull up) since this will get your biceps, shoulders and all of the muscles in your back.
4. Balance your strength: To make your joints happier and happier over time balance your strength training. For example, your upper body only really does 4 things: vertical pushing (pushing something overhead, leave this out if you have any rotator cuff or neck injuries), vertical pulling (pull ups or pull down), horizontal pushing (push up – these can be regressed so anyone can do them), horizontal pulling (rowing). Do at least as much pulling as you do pushing and your shoulders will be happy and healthy for decades.
5. Pick up and carry something heavy: your grandchildren are only getting heavier and probably multiplying. If you’re not doing anything to prepare your body for that stress that is dangerous. A weighted carry (a.k.a. a farmer’s walk) is the best core, grip, cardio, hip, balance, posture, etc. exercise you are not doing. (More on core training and toning your midsection.)