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Weight Training for the Plus-50 Generation: Special Considerations

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There’s a saying that everything gets better with age. While that may be up for debate depending on who you ask, there are certainly some things that can prove to be more difficult with age. Sometimes, exercise can be one of them. Our bodies tend to continue to be good at the things they have been doing for periods of time. It may be easier for your 50+ plus friend (and their body) to hit the gym because they have been for years, while you feel sore for a week after just one workout. The truth is, though our body may tell us otherwise at first, it’s never too late to start taking care of your health, first and foremost. Every little bit counts. There are, however, some special considerations that should be made when weight training as a member of the 50+ generation.

First, let’s talk about the importance of weight training. If you’ve really never lifted weights, the thought of starting so late in life may seem silly and pointless, but listen up. As we get older, our bodies naturally lose muscle as part of the aging process. Known in the medical world as sarcopenia (muscle loss as a result of aging), our bodies lose 3-5% of muscle mass every ten years starting around age 30. While this natural process can’t be stopped, it can be combatted or offset. Individuals who lose muscle mass at the higher end of the range (5%) tend to be inactive. This indicates that inactivity in fact worsens sarcopenia. Now let’s talk about lifting weights.

When we lift weights, our muscle tissue undergoes a cycle. The actual lifting of weights tears down muscle fibers. These tiny, microscopic tears then need rest and recovery (in the form of water, protein, etc.), and they are rebuilt stronger and bigger. While our aging bodies are naturally losing muscle mass, we can lift weights to keep building more and try to beat this cycle. As an added benefit, the more muscle mass you have, the more toned and tight your body appears and the more calories you burn at rest—added bonuses!

There are things to take into consideration when lifting weights as you age:

Seek Medical Clearance– If we counted all the times we heard seek medical clearance, we’d lose count. It oftentimes sounds silly and unnecessary, but it is absolutely crucial. If you had a bad knee or a medical condition, such as high blood pressure, there may be special considerations that you need to be aware of during a workout. Have a conversation with your doctor before committing to a weight lifting routine.

Insist on Proper Form– Proper form is an absolute must, no matter your age, but it is even more important for those 50+. Without proper form, injury is much more likely to occur. It is absolutely imperative to learn the correct execution of exercises and commit them to memory before tackling any decent or heavy amounts of weight. If you’re unsure of how to go about properly exercising, consult a certified personal trainer.

Incorporate Machines– If you used to lift and swore off the machines and only stuck to the free weights, it’s time to open your mind. Machines are sometimes better alternatives for your body as you age. While you may want to load up the bar in the squat rack and walk back some decent weight, it may make more sense to switch to using a Smith Machine instead. Machines provide an added element of safety, as they often have a “built-in spotter” and place some restrictions on range of motion.

Warm-Up & Cool-Down– You want to get your blood flowing before a workout, and you want to bring your heart rate back to normal after a workout as well. While it may seem easy to shrug off a warm-up or cool-down, don’t discount it. Doing some light, easy cardio is a good way to warm your body up and get your blood flowing. You can complete a cool-down by doing some active stretching, for example.

Whether weight lifting is a natural love of yours, or you have to force yourself out of the house and into the gym, know you’re doing your body a huge favor. Aging and frail don’t have to be synonymous. It’s never too late to start taking better charge of your health. Your body will thank you for years to come.

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