If you've never lifted weights in your life — and many people haven't — why should you start now? The answer is simple: Muscle tissue, bone density, and strength all dwindle over the years. So, too, does muscle power. These changes open the door to accidents and injuries that can compromise your ability to lead an independent, active life. Strength training is the most effective way to slow and possibly reverse much of this decline.
Strong muscles help the body in many ways. Strong muscles pluck oxygen and nutrients from the blood much more efficiently than weak ones. That means any activity requires less cardiac work and puts less strain on your heart. Strong muscles help the body stay sensitive to insulin by making it easier for sugar to move into cells, In these ways, strong muscles can help keep blood sugar levels in check, which in turn helps prevent or better control type 2 diabetes. Strong muscles also enhance weight control.
On the other hand, weak muscles hasten the loss of independence as everyday activities — such as walking, cleaning, shopping, and even dressing — become more difficult. They also make it harder to balance your body properly when moving or even standing still, or to catch yourself if you trip. The loss of power compounds this. Perhaps it's not so surprising that, by age 65, one in three people reports falls. Because bones also weaken over time, one out of every 20 of these falls ends in fracture, usually of the hip, wrist, or leg. The good news is that the risk of these problems can be reduced by an exercise and fitness routine that includes strength training.
Beginner's simple strength boosting exercises
A sturdy chair with armrests and athletic shoes with non-skid soles are all you need for these simple strength building exercises.
Sit slightly forward in a chair with your hands on the armrests. Your feet should be flat on the floor and slightly apart, and your upper body should be upright (don't lean forward). Using your arms for balance only, slowly raise your buttocks off the chair until nearly standing with your knees bent. Pause. Slowly sit back down. Aim for 8–12 repetitions. Rest and repeat the set.
Put a chair with armrests up against a wall. Sit in the chair and put your feet together flat on the floor. Lean forward a bit while keeping your shoulders and back straight. Bend your elbows and place your hands on the armrests of the chair, so they are in line with your torso. Pressing downward on your hands, try to lift yourself up a few inches by straightening out your arms. Raise your upper body and thighs, but keep your feet in contact with the floor. Pause. Slowly release until you're sitting back down again. Aim for 8–12 repetitions. Rest and repeat the set.
Standing calf raise
Stand with your feet flat on the floor. Hold onto the back of your chair for balance. Raise yourself up on tiptoe, as high as possible. Hold briefly, then lower yourself. Aim for 8–12 repetitions. Rest and repeat the set.
For more strength training tips, check out Strength and Power Training for Older Adults, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.
Image: Andrey Popov/Getty Images
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.