Model with kettlebel in hands. preparing to do the exercises

How can strength training build healthier bodies as we age?

The National Institute on Aging shared that some people perform incredible feats of strength and endurance well into their retirement years. The great news is: You don’t have to bench press 300 pounds or run a marathon to show off the benefits of strength training.

NIA-supported researchers have been studying the effects of strength training for more than 40 years and have identified multiple ways it can benefit older adults, including maintaining muscle mass, improving mobility, and increasing the healthy years of life. Learn more below about these findings from NIA-supported researchers, along with their tips for maintaining strength or becoming stronger as we age.

Some people have a hard time gaining muscle no matter how much they lift, while others have a hard time losing weight even when focusing on aerobic activity. This variability from person to person is another area of current research both at NIA and the institutions it supports.

— Eric Shiroma, Sc.D., staff scientist, NIA

Muscle mass: Use it or lose it

Age-related mobility limitations are a fact of life for many older adults. Studies have shown that about 30% of adults over age 70 have trouble with walking, getting up out of a chair, or climbing stairs. In addition to making everyday tasks difficult, mobility limitations are also linked to higher rates of falls, chronic disease, nursing home admission, and mortality.

A big culprit for losing our physical abilities as we grow older is the age-related loss of muscle mass and strength, which is called sarcopenia. Typically, muscle mass and strength increase steadily from birth and reach their peak at around 30 to 35 years of age. After that, muscle power and performance decline slowly and linearly at first, and then faster after age 65 for women and 70 for men. Those findings come from NIA’s Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA) — the longest-running study of human aging — which pioneered a series of simple tests decades ago, known as the Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB), to track mobility and muscle performance. The SPPB measures an individual’s balance, walking speed, and ability to get out of a chair five times, and then rates that person on a scale of zero to four.

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