As I’ve written before on other blog and social media posts, strength training can bring great benefits to our overall health, such as:
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends at least 2 sessions of strength-promoting exercise throughout the week. And, fortunately, this recommendation has been added to the physical activity guidelines of most countries around the world.
Brief comment before we begin: I will get technical in this section and probably at other points in this article. But I promise it is worth it.
Strength-promoting exercise, which I will call strength training from now on, independent of whether it is done at a gym lifting weights or using any bodyweight training like calisthenics or gymnastics, has been shown to have a well-established association with reductions in all-cause, cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes, and cancer-related mortality and contributing to living longer.
In a study that analyzed data from The Health Survey for England and the Scottish Health Survey it was found that among those who perform strength training twice a week, there was a 23% less risk of death during the length of the study (data was taken from surveys starting in 1994 and participants were followed until 2011)
When we specifically think of muscle tissue (or muscle mass) and muscle strength, we need to consider how these two change as we age and how important it is we keep both.
Another study by researchers at the University of Indiana has proven that the most important factor in living a longer, healthier life and reducing the risk of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease is having greater muscle strength.
We may think that more muscle mass equals more strength, but this is not always the case. Of course, the percentage of muscle mass will differ from person to person based on their training, including type, frequency, and intensity, and their lifestyle, as well.
Sedentary periods in each person’s day and non-training specific activity (leisure physical activity) are also correlated to muscle mass and function (strength), and it has been shown that in less-active adults, replacing one hour of sedentary time with “activity of light or moderate-to-vigorous intensity was significantly associated with 18% and 42% lower mortality, respectively”
We’ve heard before the term “sarcopenia” (Clark and Manini) This is the term used to describe the age-related reduction of muscle mass. And now, we can introduce as well the term “dynapenia”, used to describe the age-related loss of muscle strength (Dynapenia (pronounced dahy-nuh-pē-nē-a, Greek translation for poverty of strength, power, or force) is the age-associated loss of muscle strength that is not caused by neurologic or muscular diseases)
Findings from the Indiana University study, show that muscle strength is an important component in defining sarcopenia, as the loss of muscle mass alone does not fully reflect the loss of muscle function. It is the combination of loss of muscle mass and loss of muscle strength that creates these debilitating conditions in older adults and can be life-threatening.
All in all, maintaining muscle mass as we age is crucial to help us withstand disease. Working on muscle strength together with the maintenance of muscle mass is critical as we age to improve quality of life, extend it and reduce the risk of all-cause mortality.
As I briefly mentioned above, and you will see more on this below, we can choose from lifting weights and pumping iron at the gym (or at home!) or doing a form of bodyweight strength training.
When it comes to body weight, some examples of activities that can help us develop muscle mass and strength are calisthenics, rock climbing (indoors or outdoors), gymnastics, and aerial sports, such as pole fitness, silks, and aerial hoop.
In this article, I will focus on strength training with weights. However, the principles I will describe here can be applied to bodyweight training as well. The only difference will be the equipment used.
In the coming sections, we will discuss what equipment we can use, how and when to progress, repetitions, sets and frequency of training, as well as rest and recovery times and a few other nuances.
Let’s dive in in the second part of this blog!