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The Top 4 Reasons to Strength Train as You Age

04/23/2015 06:24 pm ET | Updated Jun 23, 2015

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When many people think of exercise, the first thing that comes to mind is aerobic training, such as walking, swimming or cycling. While cardiovascular training is most often associated with better health and longevity, more recent research also evaluates the benefits of strength training beyond the typical result of improving muscle mass.

To maximize your fitness program, strength training should be an equally important partner to aerobic training. This partnership will help these two routines benefit one another, and the end result will be a more balanced approach to fitness with enhanced results.

Here are the top four reasons you should incorporate strength training into your fitness plan.

1. Maintain Muscle Mass and Strength as You Age

As we reach our mid- to late-20s, we begin to slowly lose muscle mass. Most research shows that this rate of muscle loss increases significantly when we enter our 60s. While strength training doesn't stop muscle loss as we age, it goes a long way in slowing it down to a crawl. Not only will strength training help to maintain muscle mass as we age, it will enhance the rest of your fitness routine. Stronger muscles equal stronger cycling, swimming or running, along with better performance in any activities you do.

2. It Doesn't Have to Take a Lot of Time

Strength training can be done in a relatively short period of time per session and provide significant benefit. Studies show that only two days per week for 15 to 20 minutes can provide enough muscle stimulation to improve strength and balance in adult men and women. These results don't require lifting heavy loads that increase the risk of injury or overuse. As long as you exercise the major muscle groups several times per week and challenge yourself more than you're used, you will see results. You can feel the benefits with only six to 10 exercises.

3. Reduced Rate of Injuries and Fatigue

Our joints play a key role as our bones and muscles work together to support and move us. As we age our joints can become weak, stiff and sore unless we include physical activity. Weak joints are more vulnerable to injury from falls, twists or even picking up the groceries. Muscular weakness is also linked with deficiencies in balance that can lead to injuries related to falls. Strength training will provide significant protection by improving balance and movement in order to support your body if you were to fall, twist or strain a joint. Enhancements in strength will help your endurance in daily activities whether it's cutting the grass, painting the house, or working in the garden.

4. Counteract the Effects of Weight Loss

To lose weight, we need to create a calorie deficit either by burning calories with exercises, eating fewer calories, or preferably doing both. So as a person loses weight, we often lose muscle mass as well. Our body has a tendency to lose or gain and it can be difficult to do both. Since it is vitally important to maintain muscle mass as we age, we need to balance weight loss, especially losing large amounts of weight quickly, with strength training to maintain muscle. If you have lost weight, especially significant amounts of weight, strength training may help to prevent weakness and also help to reshape your body by adding firm muscles in areas where you have lost weight. We don't want to lose any muscle mass, even if that means that our weight loss may be slower.

Remember that healthy nutrition and quality sleep are also key components of successful strength training. Healthy nutrition and sleep both aide the body in recovery and growth of muscle tissue, so the better your nutrition and sleep, the better your results from strength training. The healthy and well balanced approach of the Ornish plan allows for effective fitness in both aerobic and strength training.

What motivates you to include strength training in your fitness plan?

This article was originally published on Ornish Living.