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Why strength training is essential after 50

Deborah Hutton

5 minute read
Deborah Hutton exercising

It’s funny how we become creatures of our generation, with all the bells and whistles that go with it. I’m a loud and proud chick of the ‘80s… disco music, high-waisted jeans, shoulder pads, ginormous hair and of course aerobics with sweatbands. God love Jane Fonda!

The 80s was all about aerobic exercise – remember grape-vines? Old habits die hard and so many of us are still trying to do cardio well into our 50s, but have you noticed it gets harder?

Scientists have discovered that as we age, our muscle mass, joint flexibility, bone density and fitness deteriorates – and like it or not, our coordination, balance and strength starts to change.

Where it was once believed that these changes were an unavoidable part of ageing, research now suggests that we can help reduce or reverse the health risks that tend to occur by shifting our focus from cardio to strength workouts.

Over the years I’ve tried just about every diet and exercise regime known to man, plus interviewed more than a few health and fitness experts. What I’ve discovered is that while strength training is important for everyone, after 50 it becomes more crucial than ever.

Realistically though, strength training over 50 becomes less about tight abs and thigh-gaps, and more about reducing the risk of osteoporosis and the signs of numerous chronic diseases such as heart disease, arthritis and type 2 diabetes, while also improving sleep and reducing depression. Sleep is a big one for me!

I recently interviewed personal trainer and health and lifestyle coach Edwina Griffin to find out more about the benefits of strength training and why we should all be incorporating it into our weekly fitness regimes.

A woman doing bicep curls with weights at a gym

Deborah: What is strength training?

Edwina: Strength training is a form of exercise which works your muscles by applying a resistance, which results in your muscles needing to exert a force. The aim is to use an appropriate weight or resistant force that will work the target muscles to fatigue; this is typically eight to 12 repetitions of an exercise.

You can use free weights, weight machines, resistance bands or even your own body weight. An effective program will have you progressively increasing the weights as you become stronger, so that your muscle strength gradually improves.

Deborah: Why is strength training particularly important for over 50s?

Edwina: From the age of 45, bone loss begins to increase in women. It is very difficult to increase bone density during menopause, but strength training can help to slow the rate of bone loss.

In addition to making you strong and physically capable, strength training is also effective at improving your balance and reducing the risk of falling. Hip fractures have been found to be lower in older adults who have been physically active in their daily life.

Deborah: How long should a strength training session be?

Edwina: Strength training is about challenging muscles to ensure they get to the point of fatigue. The duration of your session isn’t as relevant as the amount of weight used and the degree of difficulty, which must increase or change over time.

You should be varying your routine rather than increasing your repetitions, because the body will adapt to any one exercise – whether that’s weights or cardio. So it’s very important to mix up your routine, both in the type of exercise and weight used.

Deborah: How many times a week should we be strength training?

Edwina: Depending on your goals, to get some results you need a minimum of three sessions per week of weights and weight-bearing exercises for maintaining and improving your bone density.

If you’re finding it hard to get through your sessions, reduce the length of each session and use heavier weights rather than reducing the number of sessions per week.

Deborah: What are five easy exercises we can do at home for strength training?

Edwina: For the best results, incorporate the following exercises into your exercise regime:

  • Push-ups
  • Bent over rows
  • Tricep dips
  • Squats
  • Lunges

For more from Deborah Hutton, check out The Check Up’s dedicated section.

Deborah Hutton is a television presenter, former magazine editor, entrepreneur, author, speaker and Australian media personality. Facing 50 and the shock of being diagnosed with a serious skin cancer, Deborah spent more than a year assessing and redefining herself and realised along the way, women not only needed support but also wanted to connect and talk. As a result, she launched her digital media community ‘Balance by Deborah Hutton’ in 2011.

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