It’s Never Too Late to Start Strength Training
Building muscle mass as you age is key to getting the most out of every year.
Between “miracle” diet pills and buzzy biohacks like cold plunges and adaptogen supplements, there are plenty of silver bullets out there promising a shortcut to longevity. But strength training is actually scientifically proven to help you live longer and enjoy those years more.
In fact, studies show that strength training can improve cognition and joint health, help maintain bone density, and reduce the risk of all-cause mortality including cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer. Best of all, it’s never too late to get started, no matter your age.
Why Strength Training Is Essential for Healthy Aging
1. Prevent Muscle Loss
While people of all ages can benefit from resistance training, it’s especially important for adults experiencing sarcopenia, or gradual age-related muscle loss. This process begins earlier than you might think: Research shows that muscle mass decreases approximately 3 to 8 percent per decade after age 30, and the rate of loss accelerates even more after age 60. And worse, muscle loss was found to be associated with a significantly higher risk of death in a meta-analysis published in 2022.
“Just about every biological process slows with age, [including] wound repair [and] tissue regeneration after damage,” says Stuart Phillips, PhD, a professor of kinesiology and director of the Physical Activity Centre of Excellence at McMaster University. “We just can’t build muscle as well as we did when we were younger.”
Although muscle loss is an inevitable part of aging, strength training not only blunts the effects of this natural process, but it’s also the secret sauce for maintaining and even building muscle as you get older. Fitness entrepreneur and author Clark Bartram is living proof. Bartram has been in the fitness space for most of his life and now, at 60 years old, he exclusively coaches men over 50. “You might not get shredded as easily as you did when you were 23, but it is possible to get shredded at 63,” he says. “[The method] is not any different at all.”
The science is on Bartram’s side: In a 2021 meta-analysis of studies that included over 500 adults ages 65 to 82, resistance training was proven to improve muscular strength and performance. Resistance training has even been shown to significantly increase strength in adults over 80, according to a 2020 meta-analysis—proving that it’s truly never too late to start lifting.
2. Supercharge Your Metabolism
Cardio gets a lot of attention when it comes to weight loss, but strength training also plays a major role in burning calories and improving body composition, or the ratio of lean muscle to fat mass.
“Resistance is the equivalent of turning up the thermostat,” says Phillips, explaining that building muscle helps your body burn more calories. “We call this the afterburn or post-exercise thermogenesis.”
At 66, Denise Austin, a health and fitness expert and former member of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, reaps this benefit firsthand. “My muscles are miracles for my metabolism,” she says.
3. Promote Healthy Joints and Pain-Free Movement
If you enjoy walking, golf, tennis, or hiking, you’ll want to maintain muscle to prevent joint pain that could stop you from participating in your favorite activities. Doctor of Chiropractic John Cybulski regularly sees older patients with back or knee pain who find relief from building strength. “Muscle is one of the best investments into longevity,” he says.
Ever since she was a collegiate gymnast, Austin relied on strength training to prevent injuries. She says sticking with the habit has helped her continue playing sports, including tennis, without pain. “Strength training has been such a focus of my entire 40-year [career], so I truly believe it’s kept me young, kept me vital, and kept me free from injuries,” she says.
4. Boost Your Energy
There’s no need to slow down as you get older when you have the strength and power to keep up with life. MaryAnn Elizabeth, a 55-year-old model and wellness enthusiast, credits strength training with her ability to live an active lifestyle.
She has the energy to travel around the country for work and even tackle challenging hikes with her two sons. “It’s not just about aesthetics,” she says. “It’s about being able to enjoy this chapter of my life…I want to be climbing mountains for as long as I’m on this planet.”
5. Combat Hormonal Changes
Due to the hormonal shifts of menopause, women face unique challenges in maintaining muscle and body composition as they age. “For women, we have this discernible point where, boom, all of a sudden things change on a dime,” says female physiology expert and Tonal Advisory Board member Stacy Sims, PhD. “And that’s late peri-menopause into early post-menopause.” Unlike men who experience a more gradual, linear decline in muscle mass over the years, the abrupt drop in estrogen and progesterone hormones around the time of menopause causes more dramatic changes.
To counteract these changes, Sims recommends using strength training as an external stress to create the adaptations that were once triggered by these hormones. Lifting heavy weights tells the nervous system to create and recruit more muscle fibers. The stress of resistance training also leads to adaptations that preserve bone mineral density, a major factor in preventing the progression of osteoporosis.
How Tonal Helps You Train Smarter
There’s no denying all the benefits that come with building strength, but it can be challenging to know where to start with strength training.
Even though she has long participated in group fitness classes, MaryAnn Elizabeth admits to feeling intimidated in the gym’s weight room. “It felt a little overwhelming to me,” she says. But with Tonal’s intuitive nature, she feels comfortable learning and working at her own pace at home.
Here are just some of the features that make Tonal the smart choice for kickstarting your strength training journey at any age:
1. Adaptive Digital Weight
With digital weights and personalized resistance suggestions, Tonal takes the guesswork and intimidation out of lifting at a gym. “One of the problems that people have when they’re working out is they’re afraid of weight for whatever reason. It can be daunting, like, ‘what weight do I choose?’” says Cybulski. “Taking the legwork out of picking the amount of tension required is a huge factor.”
Unlike dumbells, which are typically only available in five- or 10-pound increments, Tonal lets you increase the resistance one pound at a time, so you can level up at your own pace.
2. Vast Content Library
Tonal’s coach-led workouts are designed by world-class fitness professionals around scientifically-backed principles that’ll help you reach your goals faster. This includes multi-week programs, live and on-demand strength workouts, active recovery sessions, high-intensity interval training workouts, and joint-friendly, low-impact workouts without any jumping. Tonal is also launching an Ageless Strength series of workouts designed specifically for older adults, including Ease into Action, Fit and Functional, and Dynamic Muscle.
3. Form and Safety Support
For everyone from beginners to heavy lifters, Tonal’s easy-to-maneuver arms and attention to form cues (through real-time Form Feedback and Smart View technology) make it easy to achieve proper form. “It puts you in the right position every time,” says Austin, who stresses the importance of healthy posture and joint positioning.
If you’re looking to challenge yourself in your lifts, Spotter mode automatically reduces the resistance when you’re struggling, making it safe to push your limits from home. And Tonal’s digital weights can always be turned on and off with the touch of a button so it’s simple to get into position for any exercise or take off the resistance as needed.
4. Progress Tracking
Tonal automatically tracks your progress with post-workout summaries, personal records, and Strength Score, an exclusive metric for measuring your gains. “A lot of people start programs and then quit because they’re not sure if they’re really making progress,” says Cybulski.
With Tonal, you’ll have visual proof and personalized data to keep you motivated. Austin loves how this helps her see she’s improving. “That’s a wonderful feeling of self-accomplishment, especially for people my age,” she says.
While Tonal has everything you need to train from the comfort of home, that doesn’t mean you’re in it alone. In the Official Tonal Community on Facebook, you can share your experience with other members and even get insight from Tonal coaches. As MaryAnn Elizabeth says, “It’s not like I’m in isolation. I have people that I can connect with, that I can confer with, learn from, and be motivated by.”
The Bottom Line
Resistance training is proven to improve strength and functionality as you age, and you don’t need to put in Herculean efforts to see big results.
Cybulski says that even “micro-dosing” strength training in small bursts can be beneficial to maintaining muscle as you age. “There are a lot of misconceptions about growing muscle—that it’s an incredibly intense process and that it’s going to require far more than people are capable of—but it’s actually not,” he says. “You actually don’t have to train incredibly hard, you just need to train more consistently, rather than more intensely.”
Phillips recommends sticking with the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines of practicing some type of resistance training twice a week and getting a minimum of 150 minutes of aerobic exercise. “The message is all around adherence,” he says. “Keep doing it and keep coming back to it.”
As MaryAnn Elizabeth can attest, the results are worth the commitment. “The stronger you are, the better,” she says. “It sets you up for success in all other aspects of your life.”
The information provided in this article is for educational and informational purposes only. Individuals with pre-existing health conditions, injuries, or concerns should consult with their healthcare provider before trying a new exercise or nutrition regimen.