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Exercise

13 Benefits of Strength Training After 50

Editor’s note: In resistance training, also known as strength training, you strengthen your muscles via  working against “resistance” such as hand weights, rubber resistance bands and even your own body. Here, Dr. Wayne Westcott, author of Strength Training Past 50 (http://www.humankinetics.com/products/all-products/The-Fitness-Professionals-Guide-to-Strength-Training-Older-Adults-2nd-Edition), shows you why it’s so beneficial. As always, check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

It’s no secret that America is a sedentary society. The predictable result of this country’s inactive lifestyle is an almost-unavoidable increase in body weight. According to expert Dr. Wayne Westcott, as many as 80 percent of men and women in their 50s and older have too little muscle and too much fat, leading to obesity, osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, low back pain, and numerous types of cancer.

Fortunately, muscle loss is reversible, and research reveals that resistance exercise is effective for increasing muscle mass at all ages. As Westcott points out in the new third edition of his book Strength Training Past 50 (Human Kinetics), it is essential for men and women over 50 to engage in regular resistance exercise because the rate of muscle loss nearly doubles after the fifth decade of life. In the book, cowritten with Thomas Baechle (cofounder and past president of the National Strength and Conditioning Association), Westcott offers 13 benefits of strength training and the maintenance of a strong muscular system:

Rebuilding muscle. Dozens of studies have demonstrated that even a relatively brief program of resistance exercise (20 to 40 minutes per session, two or three days a week) can rebuild muscle tissue in people 50 to 90 years of age. Westcott says most of these research programs have resulted in a gain of three to four pounds of muscle after just three to four months of strength training.

Recharging metabolism. Resistance training has a dual impact on a person’s metabolic rate because it increases energy use during both the exercise session and the muscle recovery and rebuilding period—up to three days after each workout.

Reducing fat. Most people accumulate fat as they age, even if their eating patterns remain the same. Fortunately, the same strength training studies that showed a three- to four-pound increase in muscle also demonstrated a three- to four-pound decrease in fat weight.

Reducing resting blood pressure. Hypertension is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Around one-third of American adults have high blood pressure. Westcott says it is encouraging, then, that numerous studies have shown significant reductions in resting blood pressure readings after two more months of standard or circuit-style strength training.

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