The No. 1 thing you must do to stay healthy and active as you age

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strength-trainingA recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  said too few older Americans participate in strength training. We asked Erik Taylor, a personal trainer, to share his insight and advice.

Would you believe me if I told you that the most important type of exercise you can do is to strength train for better health?

This may be hard to believe because most of the general population believes that you need to jog, run, or do some sort of cardio to be lean, fit, and healthy. Let me also tell you that I’m a former high school and college track and cross country runner, so I love running as much as the next guy. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve seen the importance of being strong for my clients and for myself. What I’m hoping to do here is bring some clarity to this topic. If you are a runner or a cardio junky I’m not telling you to stop those activities, you just need to incorporate strength into your routine so you are balanced.

Think of strength training as you being a carpenter and you are going to build a rock of solid foundation. You need to build a body that can withstand the aging process. Let’s be honest here, the END isn’t pretty for most of us. Healthcare costs can triple or quadruple, pill boxes with the days of the week become our best friends, walkers are a necessity, and often we need help with simple tasks as we become ill or face a disease. Sounds like a real hoot. Most of us like to live life on our own terms and if you want to continue that way I suggest that you pick up some weights.

Stay strong so you can stay relevant
I’m in no way saying strength training can cure all. But just take a second and picture yourself as an 80-year-old, it sure would be nice to still carry in your groceries, play with the grandkids, stand up straight, and be able to get out of a chair without needing to use the arm rest to stand up. These are just the simple tasks in life; now imagine that you cannot do these simple movements because you aren’t strong enough. That image doesn’t feel good. It also does not have to be a reality. It’s never too late to create new habits in our lives. Strength training for many people isn’t as fun as walking, spin class, yoga, or playing sports. But you cannot deny the short and long term benefits of hitting the weights.

As we age there are a number of physiological and daily functions that decline and these will increase your risk of osteoporosis, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, falling, and sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass that is replaced with fat). Strength training 2-3 days a week can help prepare you for this fight and is vital in the aging process. So what does strength training really do for your body? It can increase bone density, strengthen ligaments and tendons, and will burn up calories. But the goodness doesn’t stop there, it helps you bank muscle for your future. Remember muscle allows us to continue to be active, functional, and healthy. Muscle is critical for movement; movement is critical to our happiness.

Compound exercises
The best way to build strength is by doing compound exercises. These exercises use multiple joints through the full range of motion and engage the most muscle mass. Squats, shoulder presses, and deadlifts are my favorite 3 compound exercises. These are “functional exercises” that are easy to learn and can be done with dumbbells or barbells. You are in no way limited to just these 3 exercises or to dumbbells and barbells, however, these are my preferred methods to build strength. The TRX suspension system, kettlebells, and body weight exercises like chin-ups, pushups, and bodyweight squats are other effective ways to train.

If I still haven’t convinced you that you need to strength train, take a trip to the local nursing home. Just sit and watch the people there move, you will see firsthand what the majority of these folks lack….STRENGTH!! Strength train for a healthier future!

Erik Taylor is an NASM-certified trainer and CrossFit Level 1 instructor who works with a wide range of clients, from weekend warriors to first-time exercisers to recreational triathletes, in the South Bay of Los Angeles. Erik’s fitness motto: Have a goal, work hard, and keep it fun. Connect with Erik on Facebook, Instagram @Eriktaylorsfit, and on Taylorsfitness.com.