I’ve never been a gym person. I don’t like “working out” and I especially don’t like to do it in front of other people. I prefer yoga, meditation and more soul soothing activities as opposed to the “pump up the volume” high intensity exercise typically experienced with lifting weights.
Now that I’ve passed 40 I’m experiencing firsthand the reason doctors and exercise experts are so enthusiastic about strength training. It’s basically because we are getting weaker the older we get. This is especially true for women. Our bodies need strength training to fight the loss of muscle, bone mass and quite literally strength that comes with age. However, these are not the only reason for strength training nor is lifting weights the only way to train.
Here are some very important reasons strength training makes a difference in your quality of life and different ways to incorporate it:
- Improves your ability to do everyday activities: The stronger your muscles, the easier it is to get groceries out of the car, get a package off of the top cabinet shelf, push the lawnmower…..the list goes on and on!
- Improves your balance and stability: The stronger and more resilient your muscles, the more balance is sturdier. This will help keep you safe in your daily activities and decreases the risk of falls or accidents.
- Builds muscle strength: Adults lose between five and seven pounds of muscle every decade after age 20. Strength training will help prevent this muscle loss, and rebuild what you may have lost.
- Decreases your risk of osteoporosis: Inactivity and aging can lead to a decrease in bone density, leading to brittleness. Studies have shown that consistent strength training can increase bone density and prevent osteoporosis.
- Reduces blood pressure: Strength training can be beneficial for the prevention and treatment of high blood pressure by strengthening the heart, allowing it to beat more efficiently.
- Increases calorie burn: Strength training increases the body’s metabolic rate, causing the body to burn more calories throughout the day. This aids significantly in long-term weight loss.
- Reduces low back pain: Research has shown that strength training can increase low back strength and alleviate low back pain.
Any time spent on strength training can literally help turn back the clock and make you feel younger each day. Here are some principles to remember when putting together a program:
- Start by strength training 2 days/week, building up to 3 days/week for more of a challenge. Make sure you have at least one day of rest in between each session.
- Start with 2-3 exercises each for lower body and upper body and 1-2 core exercises (abs, lower back).
- Start with one set of each exercise (12-15 repetitions – slow and steady), using light hand weights, resistance bands or your own body weight. As you progress, you can work up to 2 and then 3 sets.
- As you add additional sets, rest 30 seconds to a minute in between each one.
- Never hold your breath during the exercises. Always exhale when exerting a force (on the hard part of the movement).
- Always warm up before and stretch before and after each session.
- Pay attention to proper form and technique, as they are very important for injury prevention and producing results.
- When selecting a weight, it should be heavy enough that you feel the muscle working and the difficulty increasing as you get to the 15th repetition. The weight should be light enough that you can do 15 repetitions without pain or breaking proper form.
- Strength training should never be painful! If you experience pain, stop the exercise immediately.
- Strength training can be don at the gym, or at home using very little equipment.
- Resistance bands, balls and/or even small hand weights.
- Water exercise is an excellent form of strength training.
- Your own body weight can even be used as resistance, for example in Pilates or even in yoga.
No matter what your age, you have a lot to gain from regular strength training. Just remember to consult your doctor before starting any exercise program. It is one of the most important things you can do to ensure your independence for many years to come.