The health and fitness world is filled with myths and misconceptions, and no topic demonstrates this more than weight training. Common perception holds that lifting weights is the domain of young, fit men looking to bulk up and add mass to their physiques, and that cardio is a better choice for those looking to lose weight, especially older individuals. However, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, adding a simple weightlifting routine to your health regimen can have profound effects for weight loss, often in surprising ways.

Sustainability: Weight Training vs. Cardio

As we age, the metabolism slows down, which can make losing stubborn body fat more difficult. Most people naively turn to cardio, assuming that long hours on the treadmill or exercise bike are the only way to effectively burn enough calories to make a difference. However, studies have shown time and again that the key to maintaining weight loss is consistency. While most cardio programs require sessions starting at least four times a week, lifting just two or three times per week is more than enough to achieve significant weight loss while also adding vital lean muscle mass. It’s a simple matter of numbers: sticking to a weight routine that only requires two gym visits per week is far easier in the long term than an intensive cardio regime.

Muscle Gain, BMR, and Your Metabolism

Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the number of calories you burn over a 24 hour period without factoring in exercise. Maintaining muscle is calorie-intensive, which means the more lean muscle mass your body has, the higher your BMR rate. In other words, adding more muscle to your body with a simple weight training program will not only burn calories while lifting, but will actually raise the number of calories your body burns when you’re not working out as well. Since we lose lean muscle mass both when eating a calorie-restricted diet and as a natural part of aging, it’s doubly important for older individuals looking to burn fat to adopt a weight training routine to help maintain lean muscle and a healthy BMR.

High-Intensity Exercise is the Key

A recent study from Duke University found that those who lost and maintained significant fat were those who combined a healthy diet with high-intensity exercise. A 20 minute power walk may be great for your cardiovascular system, but it lacks the high intensity needed for real, sustainable weight loss. Using that 20 minutes to perform a simple free-weight or kettle bell routine in the comfort of your home, however, provides the necessary resistance and challenge needed to burn fat and keep it off long-term.

Turn Weight Training into Cardio

With a few simple tweaks, it’s even possible to turn your weightlifting routine into a more cardio-focused workout. By using lighter weights and instead focusing on the number of reps, as well as shortening the rest time between sets, you can easily keep your heart rate up just as well as a jog around the block would. Adapting your weight routine to have these cardiovascular-focused elements essentially gives you the best of both worlds.

The Road Forward

Weightlifting is a safe and rewarding exercise for both the young and old. Men and women in their 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond have much to gain from adopting a regular weightlifting routine. And while adopting a weightlifting program will result in increased muscle mass, a proper lifting routine also offers incredible benefits for cardiovascular health, joint support and flexibility, and, perhaps most appealingly, is extremely beneficial for those looking to lose a few extra pounds and keep them off long-term.