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Strength Training for Boomers

Anyone at any age can start building and regaining strength; find out how and get motivated.

Staying independent is a great incentive for maintaining strength as you age. Carrying groceries, opening jars, hauling mulch—it's easy to take routine tasks for granted when you can do them easily. Keeping your muscles and bones strong as you age improves your chances of continuing these tasks on your own and reduces your risk of falling.

Having more muscle increases your metabolism, making it easier to maintain a healthy weight. Since muscle is an active tissue, it uses up more calories compared to fat.

After age 20, most of us lose about a half pound of muscle a year. By the time we're 65, we will have lost 25 percent of our peak strength.

Don't Blame Aging

But you're not destined to grow softer and weaker just because you're getting older. Experts say most muscle loss comes from not using your muscles enough as you age, rather than aging itself. Using your muscles regularly will help them stay strong and firm, regardless of age, an important reason for older adults to strength train.

Studies have shown that men in their 60s and 70s who strength train regularly have muscles that look and perform as well as inactive men in their 20s and 30s.

How Much Training?

You can start building and regaining strength at any age. So if it has been a while since you've worked on your strength, don't worry. Research shows that even people who begin strength training in their 90s can gain muscle and strength in as few as eight weeks. Strengthening exercises involve working against a force which can come from your body, weight machines, free weights or barbells, a body bar, resistance bands, stability ball, or water.

To increase your strength, you should work the different muscle groups two or three times a week. These groups include your arms, legs, chest, shoulders, stomach, and back. The American Council on Exercise recommends starting with one set of 8–12 repetitions for each muscle exercise.

There are many other things you can do besides weight lifting to build strength. One example is old-fashioned calisthenics, such as push-ups, sit-ups, and chin-ups—now the foundation for the popular "boot camp" classes. Aerobic activities that build endurance—such as cycling, running, and certain martial arts and dance classes—are good leg-strengthening exercises.

Choose activities you enjoy so that you stick with it. Mixing up your workouts every now and then will keep you and your muscles from getting bored. If your fitness routine is focused on lower body strength, be sure to balance out your upper body with a workout too. For example, if you walk four or five times a week, add an upper body workout on the two or three days you don't walk. Try hand weights, a rowing machine, or push-ups.

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