When it comes to exercise, most people focus on the cardiovascular (aerobic) variety or on some type of flexibility or stretching activities. If you are involved in those forms of exercise now, keep up the good work. If you are not, this is the time to start. In either case, it's important to remember that strength training is essential to a balanced exercise program.
Many people underutilize strength training, regardless of age, but it seems to get especially overlooked as we get older. That's unfortunate, because regular strength training will help you improve body composition and increase your resting metabolic rate (calories you burn at rest), increase the strength and composition of your bones, lower heart rate and improve blood pressure. It's also been shown to improve glucose metabolism and positively affect blood cholesterol levels.
If strength training brings up images of body builders and bulking up, you might want to think again. The fact is this form of exercise is one of the best tools available if you're trying to slim down. Done on a regular basis, strength training will help you turn body fat into lean muscle mass which in turn, will lead to more calories being burned each day, even when you're sitting down. Studies show that through regular strength training you can increase the calories you burn at rest from 7-15% per day. Based on a 2000 calorie dietary intake, that comes out to around 140-300 additional calories a day extra you can burn.
This bonus derives from the fact that muscles are a key regulator for our metabolism. The more lean muscle you have, the better your metabolism and the leaner and healthier you will become. The myth of strength training and Arnold Schwarzenegger-type muscles may be particularly off-putting to women, but again, that myth is just that -- a myth. In reality, women's bodies are engineered differently from males, including the absence of testosterone, so increasing muscle mass will result in a slimmer, more toned and more confident you.
In order to reap the full benefits of your strength workouts, the key, as in all types of exercise activity, is frequency and consistency. Once you start a program, stay the course. Research indicates that it takes at least 16 workouts to start seeing benefits of muscle growth. To take advantage of increasing your metabolism you need to be consistent over a period of 6 months. It takes some perseverance but it's definitely worth the effort.
From a time perspective, your strengthening routine only needs to be 20-30 minutes in duration and at least two, but better yet, three times per week. Try and develop a routine that will target all the body's large muscle groups and do combination – also called compound -- movements that work several muscles or muscle groups at the same time. Unless you have an identified weakness or are planning to enter a fitness competition, there's no need for isolation workouts – the kind of exercises that work only one muscle or muscle group and only one joint at a time. Push-ups are one of the most basic examples of a combination exercise.
As I mentioned earlier, strengthening routines are particularly important for the older adult, and by older I am talking mid- to late-30s and beyond. At that point in our development most people not engaged in fairly serious physical labor will start to lose muscle mass each year with about 10% loss per decade after the age of 40, 15% loss after age 50, and 30% loss per decade after the age of 70. In fact, the average adult loses 6 pounds of lean muscle mass each decade. If that's not bad enough, this muscle turns into fat. So if you are eating the same as you did in your 20s and 30s and not getting the right amount of exercise and incorporating strength training, chances are you are putting on weight.
The good news is that this muscle mass loss is totally reversible at any age. So don't delay. Start a weekly strength training routine today and enjoy the improvements to your health with the added benefits of looking leaner and fitter. And of course, if you're just beginning any exercise program you should talk with your physician to see if it's appropriate for you. You may even want to consult a physical therapist to get an assessment of any specific exercise and joint protection needs you might have. It's always a good idea to set reasonable goals for yourself and learn how to modify exercises if needed when you're getting started.
As the Summer Olympics come to us from London this month, keep in mind the Olympic motto: Citius, Altius, Fortius – Faster, Higher, Stronger. It's always a good time to work on that last goal.
Stay healthy my friends,
Chair, My Healthy Lifestyle Employee Wellness Committee
(Editor's Note: In addition to serving as Chair for the Employee Wellness Committee, Daniel is the Administrator of Riverside Therapy Group, Wellness and Outpatient Services and oversees all of Riverside's therapy services along with Riverside's Wellness and Fitness Centers in Newport News and Gloucester.)
For more health tips and good information, you can also follow Daniel on Twitter at danob71.
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