You know exercise is good for you. Ideally, you're looking
for ways to incorporate physical activity into your daily
routine. If your aerobic workouts aren't balanced by a proper
dose of strength training, though, you're missing out on a key
component of overall health and fitness. Despite its reputation
as a "guy" or "jock" thing, strength
training is important for everyone. With a regular strength
training program, you can reduce your body fat, increase your
lean muscle mass and burn calories more efficiently.
Use it or lose it
Muscle mass naturally diminishes with age. "If you don't
do anything to replace the lean muscle you lose, you'll increase
the percentage of fat in your body," says Edward Laskowski,
M.D., a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at Mayo
Clinic, Rochester, Minn., and co-director of the Mayo Clinic
Sports Medicine Center. "But strength training can help you
preserve and enhance your muscle mass — at any age."
Strength training also helps you:
- Develop strong bones. By stressing your
bones, strength training increases bone density and reduces
the risk of osteoporosis.
- Control your weight. As you gain muscle,
your body gains a bigger "engine" to burn calories
more efficiently — which can result in weight loss. The
more toned your muscles, the easier it is to control your
- Reduce your risk of injury. Building
muscle helps protect your joints from injury. It also
contributes to better balance, which can help you maintain
independence as you age.
- Boost your stamina. As you get stronger,
you won't fatigue as easily.
- Manage chronic conditions. Strength
training can reduce the signs and symptoms of many chronic
conditions, including arthritis, back pain, depression,
diabetes, obesity and osteoporosis.
- Sharpen your focus. Some research
suggests that regular strength training helps improve
attention for older adults.
Consider the options
Strength training can be done at home or in the gym. Consider
- Body weight. You can do many exercises
with little or no equipment. Try push-ups, pull-ups,
abdominal crunches and leg squats.
- Resistance tubing. Resistance tubing is
inexpensive, lightweight tubing that provides resistance
when stretched. You can choose from many types of resistance
tubes in nearly any sporting goods store.
- Free weights. Barbells and dumbbells are
classic strength training tools.
- Weight machines. Most fitness centers
offer various resistance machines. You can also invest in
weight machines for use at home.
When you have your doctor's OK to begin a strength training
program, start slowly. Warm up with five to 10 minutes of
stretching or gentle aerobic activity, such as brisk walking.
Then choose a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire
your muscles after about 12 repetitions.
"On the 12th repetition, you should be just barely able
to finish the motion," Dr. Laskowski says. "When
you're using the proper weight or amount of resistance, you can
build and tone muscle just as efficiently with a single set of
12 repetitions as you can with more sets of the same
To give your muscles time to recover, rest one full day
between exercising each specific muscle group. When you can
easily do more than 15 repetitions of a certain exercise,
gradually increase the weight or resistance. Remember to stop if
you feel pain. Although mild muscle soreness is normal, sharp
pain and sore or swollen joints are signs that you've overdone
When to expect results
You don't need to spend hours a day lifting weights to
benefit from strength training. Two to three strength training
sessions a week lasting just 20 to 30 minutes are sufficient for
most people. You may enjoy noticeable improvements in your
strength and stamina in just a few weeks. With regular strength
training, you'll continue to increase your strength — even if
you're not in shape when you begin.
Strength training can do wonders for your physical and
emotional well-being. Make it part of your quest for better
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