Most of us tend to trend to favor one type of exercise over the other eschewing cardiovascular training for weight training, or vice versa. However, a balanced exercise routine is essential in achieving and maintaining health and vitality as we progress through the inevitable aging process. Lets take a look at strength training in particular, and some often under-appreciated benefits of strength training exercises.

1. Bone Health: Its not just milk.

While osteoporosis is often considered a womens disease, a decline in bone density occurs in both women and men as part of the aging process. Exercise, both cardiovascular and strength training, helps to fortify bones by stimulating the repair process vital to bone integrity. When we exercise, osteoclasts and osteoblasts (two vital cells in bone repair and fortification) go to work replacing old, brittle bone, with new, healthy bone as a response to the exercise stimuli. Therefore, when we exercise, we are effectively building ourselves a healthier skeleton.

Although cardiovascular exercises and strength exercises can promote osteoclast/osteoblast activity, many cardiovascular exercises tend to focus on lower body weight bearing (walking, running, etc). While this fortifies the bones in your lower body, the bones in the upper body remain neglected unless you include strength training in your routine.

2. Muscle Mass: Use it or lose it.

Although the body begins to lose muscle mass with age thanks to a natural shift in hormones, the majority of our muscle loss is thanks to our sedentary lifestyles. We tend to become more sedentary as we age, as our social circles and activity set becomes more limited. In other words, in the absence of physical stimulus or a strength-training/strength maintenance routine, our existing muscle mass becomes weaker and is eventually replaced by fat.

3. Wave goodbye to achy joints

Despite what common sense may tell us (if a joint hurts, dont move it), exercising has the potential to improve joint health and mobility, providing there is no serious injury to the joint itself. An otherwise healthy joint that isnt in use becomes more and more rigid. When we are forced to use it beyond our typical capacity, the joint can become inflamed and painful. By exercising the join in a safe and effective manner, you strengthen the muscles, tendons, and ligaments surrounding that joint, improving the function and integrity of the joint itself.

4. Where am I? Proprioception and Balance.

Proprioception is our ability to infer our bodys place in space relative to our surroundings- its what allows us to walk down a flight of stairs without having to look at our feet each step, or walk through a doorway without one of our wayward arms inadvertently hitting the door frame. In those moments, our proprioception allows us to know exactly where our entire body is in relation to our surroundings, without actively having to focus on each individual limb. Our sense of proprioception depends on the variety of stimuli we encounter if we only move our bodies in a single plane of motion, or arent able to keep our balance when resisting a force (say, the gravity of a wayward step or the surprise jump from an overexcited dog), we are more prone to injury and falls. However, by strength training, were more accustomed to the various stimuli toying with our balance and are able to appropriately regulate our response by contracting the muscle to counteract the force.

5. Functional Strength: How strength and proprioception promote independence.

Functional strength and capacity can be roughly defined as the ability to carry out various everyday tasks. As we grow older, our functional strength typically declines, thanks to a combination of physiological and social factors. Our loss strength and proprioception reduces our ability to safely and effectively carry out our tasks of daily living. This reduction in functional ability is exactly why many tasks that are both simple and safe for a younger person (say, squatting to pick up a dropped item, or carrying an item down a flight of stairs) is often difficult or even impossible for an older person.

Ready to get started? Not so fast!

Many people implement a strength training routine too quickly, lifting weights that are too heavy, lifting with poor form, or increasing intensity and weight beyond that which their body is capable of recovering. A sound, effective weight training routine for most people involves starting with 2 days per week for around 15-20 minutes, in conjunction with cardiovascular exercise every day of the week.

Aim to work your whole body through a combination of cardiovascular and strength exercises that includes your lower body, upper body, and core. All are essential to sound functional strength, as the three work in conjunction in nearly every task or activity we perform. If you want to be able to squat down and pick up a dropped fork at age 85, start by protecting your muscle mass at age 45. Preventing a decline in muscle mass and strength ensures that youll maintain your independence and quality of life as you age.