Exercise and health often go hand in hand, especially given the awareness of the link between cardiovascular exercise and cardiovascular health. This is particularly important, as CVD associated diseases represent a major health risk across the globe. However, another area that is definitely worth a look into is resistance training. There are many potential benefits to long term health that can be gained by incorporating a properly planned resistance training programme into your training or fitness regimes.
In exercise science, one significant area of interest for me is the part that better posture and musculature can play in reducing the chances of injury, especially long term. Resistance training can assist with improving both of these areas. One of the biggest risk factors for adults over the age of 40, and especially 60+, is muscle dystrophy (sarcopenia), the reduction in muscle mass associated with age, sex, illness and activity levels. As you get older beyond the age of ~30, your muscle tissue starts to decrease. This can be stopped or significantly slowed down with the addition of resistance training. The big benefits to this are that performing tasks that involve lifting, twisting or higher impact will reduce the chances for potential injury. Along with maintaining proper posture, this will likely decrease the chances of experiencing falls, which are a huge risk factor for mortality, especially in older populations. This risk can be reduced massively by incorporating resistance training into your fitness routine early on.
Another issue is bone density. The reason that falls can be so damaging for elderly people is that they are far more likely to break bones. One of the biggest causes of death in elderly populations is falling, breaking bones and the complications associated with this. Osteopenia is an early stage of the reduction in bone density. It occurs due to factors such as age, sex, activity level, vitamin D deficiency and chronic low energy availability (EA). The mechanism behind this is an imbalance in bone turnover (our bones are constantly being simultaneously broken down and rebuilt). Low EA, low vitamin D levels and being older or inactive all decreases the rate of bone mineral build up and can increase the rate of breakdown, thus leading to reduced bone density and potentially brittle bones. This massively increases the chance of breaking bones and, as it progresses, becomes osteoporosis. A good real-life example of this is when elite cyclists switch to running. I’ve seen this on multiple occasions: an athlete from a weight restrictive sport with limited impact or resistance training switches to running and experiences stress fractures or worse. They go into the running sensibly and well-guided in how to increase volume and intensity, but they still break bones.
Including a properly planned resistance training programme can reduce the chance of injuries such as this happening. Equally, by the time the athlete (or anyone else) reaches the age of 60+, those that have incorporated resistance training into their fitness regime will likely be able to lead a healthier and more active lifestyle at that age. For anyone who believes that they may be at risk of osteopenia, a DEXA scan is a way to accurately and reliably measure bone mineral density.
Embarking on a resistance training programme should be well thought out and considered as it needs to fit in with work, personal and other training commitments. The progression of the programme is also important in order to avoid injury, as is maintaining proper form for performing the lifts. Risks associated with resistance training are minimal when conducted the right way and with good guidance. The benefits, both short and long term, can be massive.