Steve plans on getting stroner in 2021 so he can get older. A lot older.


Steve's plans for getting stronger in 2021 aim to help an Empty Nester enjoy life now and for a long time to come. Is it too late to start?


Over the last eight months, we have done the easy part. Mrs. Nester and I enjoy a new daily routine that includes walking and better eating. Thankfully, the effort returned us to something approximating our “playing weights.” Now, for the hard part: strength training. For the better part of my 59 years, I pursued fitness based on aerobic exercise; I am an early and repeat failure at weightlifting. The evidence, however, overwhelms me. If you want to be productively older, you must keep getting stronger.

COVID-19 gave me some cover. Not going to a gym definitely seems to be a healthy decision. A popular one also, as the run on barbells outstrips even the toilet paper craze. The intellectual me knows I need more than walking to get stronger. Particularly given Mrs. Nester’s new devotion to Yoga with Adriene. The practical me, however, used the COVID obstacles to avoid the obvious. I need a kickstart.

A good rule of thumb in life is that whenever you need a quote, ask Benjamin Franklin. The man was an astounding fount of wisdom. Ben popped in today with this jewel:

You may delay, but time will not, and lost time is never found again.

-Benjamin franklin

Ben’s wisdom rings particularly true for Empty Nesters. We reside in a zip code where time no longer is a given. It is one thing to lose a day out of the tens of thousands we live in a normal human life. More tragic is the loss of a day out of the thousands we will live starting in our late 50s. So, thanks to my friend Ben, 2021 will be the year Steve focuses on getting stronger.


I am not going to the beach anytime soon and when I do, I will wear a shirt to avoid sunburn. So do I really need to worry about getting stronger?

Not long ago, we accepted the loss of strength as an inevitable consequence of aging. In the absence of concerted effort to get stronger, inevitable is exactly the right word. The seminal Framingham Disability Study conducted in the early 1970s found that 2/3rds of women age 75 could not lift 10 pounds and almost half could not stand in line for 15 minutes.

After age 30, all genders naturally lose muscle mass at a rate of 10% a decade. Bad enough, but around age 50, strength loss accelerates to 15%. As muscle loss compounds, the impact threatens your quality of life. The worst outcome stems from fall risk and the damage that occurs when you do fall. The loss of muscle means both less balance (falling) and reduced bone density (breaking bones when you do fall). The mortality rates for someone who breaks a hip are frightening. At age 60-where I am right now-14% of people who suffer a hip fracture will die within a year. At the upper end, the number rises to 58%.

Getting stronger helps us accomplish everyday tasks, like grocery shopping.
If you cannot mange this, can you be independent? Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels

So getting stronger increases your chances of living longer. But wait, there’s more! Getting stronger also means living better. People fear aging, in part, because they fear losing their independence. On a basic level, grocery shopping, carrying the bags, and rising from a chair are requirements for independence. For younger Empty Nesters, traveling, playing with grandkids and pursuing hobbies require strength. As we live longer, the conflict sharpens. We need strength, but our body naturally gives it away.


You Can Do This!

Fortunately, in the last 30 years, our understanding of aging changed dramatically. In 1994, Harvard and Tufts engaged in a landmark study about the benefits of exercise for seniors. The take home conclusion from the study was that strength exercise benefits all age groups. Simultaneously, the MacArthur Foundation completed a study demonstrating that seniors could not only preserve muscle mass, they could increase it. Particularly heartening, the study applied to those who had never strength trained before.

We know now that getting stronger as we age is both essential and achievable. The big question then is how? Start with a consultation with your doctor, for all the obvious reasons. Relying on the internet for “exercises at age 65” is particularly risky because there is much bigger differences in the physical condition of older adults, even if their size and weight is similar.

Here Is How You Do This!

After you have the go ahead and precautions for your health situation, regular strength training becomes a matter of routine. The basic idea is to subject muscles to strain; in the process of rebuilding the muscles grow stronger. For some people, using body weight exercises will be sufficient to strain the muscles. A great example would be squats, simply bending the knees deeply. The squat is an essential exercise as it preserves our ability to move.

This guy is definitely getting stronger.
Likely unnecessary. Photo via Istock.

Over time and for others, however, those same squats will not stress the muscles. The old phrase “no pain, no gain” has some truth to it. If the muscles do not have work above normal levels, they do not rebuild and no progress occurs. So at some point you will begin doing squats while holding weights. Sill, it is the proper form, not the weight that makes the difference. If you cannot maintain the right form with weight, you have too much weight. You are not getting stronger, you are getting hurt.

Finally, after exercising you have to eat. For muscles to grow back stronger they need nutrients. Lean meats and nuts provide the protein that fuels the process. On the other hand, a crash diet and an exercise program work at cross purposes; no recipes is a recipe for disaster.

To summarize:

  • Check with your doctor
  • Start slow but stay in a routine
  • Gradually add weight
  • Maintain your form above all else
  • Coordinate your diet

Reputable trainers can help with all this; in the days of COVID most have a substantial online presence.


Fitness resolutions are a cliché. But as Ben said, time waits for no one. If not now, when? So here is my resolution, arrived at after checking the old Presidential Fitness Test standards. On January 1, 2022, this Empty Nester will do 10 pull ups in a minute’s time. That feat would not have won any medals, but it would have been a passing grade for a 17-year-old. And it would mean that I had reversed the process; getting stronger instead of weaker. Good luck to me.

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