The importance of strength training in your 50s

Research shows that regular weight-bearing exercise could be a game-changer for your health in later life. Here’s how to reap the benefits…

When most people hear the phrase ‘strength training’, they think of burly, be-veined men in their 20s and 30s showing off their physique in the gym weights section. However, new health studies underline that strength training – both using your own body weight and weights – could be a game changer at any age. ‘Whether it’s in your 20s, or later in life, strength training underpins your health, fitness and athletic performance,’ says Jim Pate, senior physiologist at the Centre for Health and Human Performance.

Incorporating weight-bearing exercise could be especially beneficial for women going through menopause. ‘This is when our bone mineral density starts to drop dramatically,’ says Dr Catherine Spencer-Smith, consultant physician in sports and exercise medicine. ‘And our risk of heart disease starts to go up due to the effects of lower oestrogen levels.’ The solution? More strength training – one study found that this form of exercise significantly reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in women over 62.

A 2013 study from the US found that for the over-90s, strength training increased walking speed, balance and reduced incidence of falls. While experts insist that post-50 creaking joints are a myth, we may have picked up other physiological problems by this age. ‘Everybody is different, but it’s likely that’s down to lifestyle factors rather than age,’ says Kira Mahal, personal trainer and founder of MotivatePT.

So, what should you do?

‘We mustn’t shy away from exercise, because osteoarthritis is made better by strengthening joints,’ says Dr Spencer-Smith. ‘There’s no evidence that being active wears your joints any faster.’ It’s never too late to start and introducing activity in your 50s can ward off falls and loss of mobility later on. A study by cardiologists found that as long as regular exercise (4-5 times a week) was started before age 65, it could significantly reduce the risk of heart failure.

Mahal recommends power walking with light weights, and low-impact workouts such as swimming or rowing. ‘Tennis is great if you’re a little older as it combines cardio and coordination, and you can control the pace.’ Strengthen with Pilates, while tai chi and yoga are great for developing strong balance.

3 strength-training moves to try 

1. Plank

Plant your palms shoulder-width apart on the floor. Extend your legs behind you and stand on your toes. Engage your glutes, legs, and abs, keeping your body in a straight line from your feet through to your head. This move strengthens your abdominal muscles, obliques and glutes. As you have to constantly squeeze your abs, it’s one of the best workouts for your core.

 2. Goblet squat 

Hold a dumbbell vertically under your chin, cupping it like a goblet. Keeping it tucked against your chest, lower into a squat until your elbows brush the inside of your knees, then drive up through your heels to return to the start position. This move targets your glutes, quads, hamstrings, abs, obliques and calves. It increases mobility and strengthens and tones your bottom and abdominal muscles.

3. Elevated push-ups 

Find a stable, elevated surface that you can lean against, such as the edge of your bed or the sofa. Plant your palms on the surface shoulder-width apart and step back. Lean forward so that your chest touches the surface, then use your arms to drive your chest away and return to the starting position. Elevated push-ups target your pectorals (chest), triceps (arms), deltoids (shoulders), and abdominal muscles. If you’re finding this move tough, try pushing against a wall, instead. Or if it’s too easy, do a regular push-up on the floor!

Find more great health and lifestyle content in healthy magazine and at

Written by: Hattie Parish

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