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Power Up: Why You Should Be Lifting Weights and 5 Moves to Try

There’s no time like the present to put some muscle into your day. Your body (and mind) will thank you!

By Alyssa Shaffer

You’re never too old to get stronger. In fact, our golden years are exactly when we should be flexing those biceps to help counteract our body’s natural muscle loss. 

“Starting at about age 30, we start to see some natural decreases in muscle mass,” explains Summer B. Cook, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of kinesiology at the University of New Hampshire. This process, known as sarcopenia, really begins to pick up steam after age 60. 

“Losing strength is part of the aging process,” notes Kumar Dharmarajan, MD, MBA, cardiologist, geriatrician, and Associate Chief Medical Officer at Clover Health. But it’s not unavoidable. “Data has shown that strength training, in combination with cardio and flexibility exercises, offers significant benefits,” adds Dr. Dharmarajan. 

And working on your strength is important for more than just looking good or being able to carry your grandbabies. A study published in Current Sports Medicine Reports links muscle- building activities to lower rates of bone loss, better heart health, reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, better balance, and less weight gain. And, importantly for older adults, resistance training can help reduce the risk of falls. 

There’s also a benefit for your mind. “People just feel better when they do strength training. You get a sense that you are more capable every day,” says Sophia Chang, MD, MPH, internist, and Chief Clinical Informatics Officer at Clover Health. 

“Strength training also helps remove the fear that many people may not even realize they have about possibly falling or being unable to do certain daily activities,” Dr. Chang explains. Best of all, you don’t have to go big to see a big difference. 

“The focus should be on higher rep counts with lighter weights,” says Dr. Dharmarajan. “Think low and slow.” Anyone new to exercise should check with their doctor before starting a strength program, but once you get the all-clear, keep in mind that consistency is key. 

Start off with just one round of exercises (known as a set), doing each movement (or rep) about 10 to 15 times. “You should feel a little tired by the end of the set, but not so fatigued that you can barely move,” notes Cook. 

As you get stronger, aim to do two or three sets of each exercise, two to three times a week, focusing on the major muscle groups (arms, chest, shoulders, back, core, hips, and legs). 

While lifting dumbbells is the most traditional form of strength training, yoga, Pilates, and even using your body weight for resistance can all help improve strength and build lean muscle. 

“Your body will always respond to exercise,” says Cook. “Adding in some strength training— even if you’re in your 90s—can help you stay as active and healthy as possible and improve your quality of life.” 

5 Weight Lifting Moves to Try 

Start with a single set of each exercise, doing 10 to 15 reps of each one (except for those based on time). Rest for 30 to 60 seconds between exercises. As you get stronger, you can progress to doing two to three rounds, moving with less rest between each exercise. Follow the modifications based on your fitness and comfort level. 

Always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program!

1. Wall Push-Up
Works chest, triceps, shoulders, core

Stand facing a wall, about an arm’s length away, feet hip-distance apart. Lean  forward, placing both hands on the wall shoulder-distance apart, fingers pointing  toward the ceiling. Keeping your abs firm, slowly bend your elbows, lowering your chest toward the wall;  straighten your arms and return to start. 

Make it easier: Walk your feet closer to the wall. 
Make it harder: Bring your feet and hands closer together (close-stance push-up). 

Illustration of a man demonstrating how to do squats

2. Squat
Works legs, glutes

Stand with your feet hip-distance apart, toes pointing out slightly, arms at sides. Bend your knees, as if sitting down in a chair, keeping your bodyweight over your  heels. As you lower down, bring your arms forward to help you counterbalance. Stand up, lowering your arms to your sides and repeat. 

Make it easier: Sit at the edge of a sturdy chair and stand up. Slowly lower all   the way back into the seat, maintaining control throughout. 
Make it harder: Hold light weights at your sides. 

Illustration of a woman demonstrating how to do a one-arm dumbbell row

 3. One-Arm Dumbbell Row
Works back, biceps; reduces kyphosis, or rounding of the back

Stand with your feet about hip-distance apart, holding a weight in your right hand. Bend forward from the waist about 45 degrees to the floor, keeping your head in line with your spine and your abs engaged. 

Draw your right elbow toward your ribs, keeping your arm close to the side. Lower to start and repeat. Repeat on both sides. 

Make it easier: Hold on to the back of a sturdy chair or bench for added support. 
Make it harder: Hold a weight in each hand. 

Illustration of a woman demonstration how to do a farmer's walk

 4. Farmer’s Walk
Works full body: Back, shoulders, arms, glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves

Stand holding weights at your sides. Keeping a tall posture (keep chest up, shoulders down, and don’t round   forward), walk at an even pace, looking directly ahead of you. Walk about   20 to 30 seconds, then turn around and return to start.

Make it easier: Use lighter weights (1 to 3 pounds) or no weights, and/or decrease time. 
Make it harder: Use heavier weights (5 to 10 pounds) and/or increase time. 

Illustration of a woman demonstrating how to plank

 5. Plank
Works back, chest, arms, shoulders, core, hips

Begin in a tabletop position, with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. 

Straighten your legs, keeping your feet about hip distance apart and forming a straight line from head to heels. Hold here for 30 to 40 seconds, keeping your abs engaged and your hips in line with your spine. 

Make it easier: Bring your knees to the floor.
Make it harder: Lift one foot off the floor. 

It’s never too late to start a new exercise program. With SilverSneakers you can join senior health and fitness classes that match your needs. SilverSneakers is available to all Clover Health members at no cost. Contact Clover Health today to learn more about our plans which all include SilverSneakers and other supplemental benefits so we can help you get started on your health and fitness journey. We’re available from 8am to 8pm local time, 7 days a week,* at 1-800-836-6890.

This article was originally published in the Fall 2021 issue of Clover Living magazine

This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Kumar Dharmarajan.

Published on 1/21/22

Photo credit: Getty, Illustrations by Nathan Hackett