“Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes for consistency and steady progress”
Does climbing a single flight of stairs get you out of breath? Do you struggle to get down and up off the floor? Is it difficult to lift and carry a heavy bag of groceries from your car into your house? If so, you’re approaching “One-Rep Max Living (1RM)”, which basically means the demands of daily life leave you exhausted due to a lack of muscle strength and endurance. “Beginning at age 30, the body starts to lose 3–5% of muscle mass per decade.” As a person ages and becomes more sedentary, muscle loss worsens, especially fast-twitch muscle fibers, which can develop into a condition called sarcopenia. This condition not only causes trouble with daily activities, but it also is associated with a slower, shuffling gait or walking speed, making you more susceptible to falls and serious injuries. Hence, lacking muscle strength is a predictor of frailty and all-cause mortality.
It’s important to understand that “there’s no scientific evidence that says muscles don’t work after a certain age”. In fact, studies show that older adults who start to lift weights typically gain muscle mass and strength, as well as better mobility and mental sharpness.
We might not be as strong or agile as we once were, but we can certainly become strong enough to perform daily tasks efficiently, and have a better quality of life as we age. But to make progress it’s imperative that you train regularly, not only to improve strength and stamina, but also to build your confidence. This is especially true for women, who can feel out of place and self-conscious in a male-dominated gym setting. There’s also the stigma surrounding women and weightlifting: that it can be dangerous or will make them bulky, or that it’s intimidating to lift heavy weight. Both women and men who start out weightlifting tend to stick with light weight for fear of getting hurt. However, learning to lift weights doesn’t have to be scary. The key is finding a good coach or strength training class that will improve your technique and help you develop confidence as you make progress.
In order to improve at most things in life, it takes time, effort and steady practice. Learning how to properly strength train is no different, so it’s important to start with the right mindset. A person with the right attitude is patient and willing to learn, and doesn’t get too frustrated when things don’t go right. To actualize our potential we need to not let discomfort or failure sidetrack our training. Instead, let it be a lesson to learn from in order to correct mistakes.
Another reason why older people avoid weightlifting is that negative and inaccurate things have been said to them for decades about developing physical strength. Whether it’s from their healthcare provider or the culture at large, the message older adults get is ‘you should take it easy and don’t try and pick up heavy things’. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. When we become inactive and scared to push our bodies, we become weaker and less resilient. The reality is that if we don’t get enough functional strength training with the “proper” dose of weight and reps, we’re bound to slide into decrepitude and disability as we age.
If you feel like daily activities are becoming more challenging and you would like to improve your strength and conditioning, it’s important to know that you’re never too old or too weak to get stronger. While we each have our genetic limits, research suggests that if we push against those limits by regularly exercising and strength training, we will see improvements, but consistency is key. An untrained older adult might start off at a very low weight, but once some strength and movement are established, their confidence and capabilities will grow. For example, after building up your strength and motor control from several months of practicing body-weight and dumbbell squats, sitting and rising from a chair will become effortless. The same can be said for practicing lunges and other functional movements. And, the next time you decide to take the stairs instead of the elevator, you’ll be able to walk up with ease and without getting winded.
Regularly practicing resistance training with the intention to improve your 1RM Living will ensure you are strong and agile enough to manage daily life activities with ease. Let your Be Resilient coaches and classmates support you along your journey, and perhaps at some point in the new year, your effort will pay off with big improvements in your health and quality of life!