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Health Tip #48: It’s Never Too Late to Start Strength Training

Strength training conjures up images of Schwarzenegger and Stallone pumping iron in the gym, and that keeps many people from even thinking about working out with weights. But moderate strength training doesn’t require superhuman strength, won’t cause bulky muscles (just healthy, firm ones), and yet will improve so many aspects of health—from better cognition to better diabetes management.

According to a new study from researchers at the University of British Columbia in Canada, strength training (also called resistance or weight training), such as lifting weights, improved mild memory problems that can precede Alzheimer’s disease. The participants—86 women between the ages of 70 and 80 with mild cognitive impairment—did better in tests on conflict resolution, attention and memory after strength training twice a week for six months. A separate Japanese study found that the language ability of a group of 47 older people with mild cognitive impairment improved when they took part in a mixture of aerobic, strength and balance exercises over 12 months (a great prescription for avoiding falls, too).

Other research shows just how far reaching the benefits of strength training are. A regular combination of strength training and aerobics led to improvements in insulin sensitivity and better fat loss in people with diabetes. A number of separate studies, including one done in the US and another in Italy, found that health improvements were significant when people incorporated both types of fitness into weekly workouts. This led to better HbA1c levels, a critical barometer of diabetes management, and a benefit that can help stem the negative health complications of diabetes.

You don’t have to spend hours in the gym or wield huge amounts of weight to get these benefits—more repetitions with a light weight or using resistance bands can bring desired results and you can work out at home, in front of a mirror to check your form. You do need to first get your doctor’s okay, and you’ll be off to a better start if you work with a trainer to develop an effective program of exercises targeted to your current abilities (you should be able to follow though on your own). It’s rarely “too late” in life to get started, and you will probably surprise yourself at how you’re able to increase your strength and, in turn, your ability to stay active and vital.

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