Strength training, a.k.a. resistance training or weight training is good for people of all ages and fitness levels as a way to prevent the natural loss of muscle due to ageing. It has also shown to have benefits for people with chronic health conditions like obesity, arthritis or heart conditions.
As we age, we naturally lose muscle mass, this is called sarcopenia. When the muscle mass decreases, your body fat percentage typically increases and fat often replaces the lost muscle.
Regular strength training reduces and, in some case, reverses this natural muscle loss.
7 Benefits of Strength Training
This benefit is obvious. resistance training helps to reduce the effects of age-related muscle loss. Regular strength training builds and rebuilds your muscle fibers due to the increased use.
Better cardiovascular health
Strength training has been shown to increase your cardiovascular health. Level of effort in your training sessions require additional blood to be pumped to the working muscles. This is accomplished through increased heart rate with strengthens the heart, which is really just another muscle.
Better Body Mechanics
Proper performance of weight training exercises put the muscles through a full range of motion increasing our mobility. The repeated extension and contraction of muscles helps to increase the range of motion over time and when combined with post exercise stretching, improves flexibility.
An additional benefit of better flexibility and mobility is lower risk of injury. Slip and fall injuries are one of the top injuries of the older populace. With decreased muscular strength and limited flexibility and mobility many people develop balance issues. These balance issue can result in serious injury like broken hips.
Better Body Image
Strength training helps reduce body fat and keep it off longer than cardiovascular exercises alone. Muscle cells burn more calories than fat cells just to maintain. Therefore, increasing muscle through strength training will increase your basal metabolic rate, burning calories more efficiently.
Additionally, resistance training increases the aesthetic look of one’s body with reduced body fat and increased lean muscle.
Prevent Chronic diseases
Research has shown that strength training increases you’re your muscles ability to take in and use glucose, which is key to helping control and prevent type-2 diabetes. Reduction of visceral body fat through resistance training also reduces risk of heart disease and some types of cancer. Weight training also improves bone strength, reducing the effect even preventing osteoporosis which decreased bone density (brittle bones).
Better mental health
Exercise of any type is proven to increase the production of what we like to call the “Happy Hormones”; Dopamine, Oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. These hormones improve your mood and reduce anxiety and depression. Studies have also shown that regular strength training helps reduce cognitive decline in older adults.
Through all of the benefits of strength training that we have discussed up to this point the cumulative effect is a longer lifespan. More importantly, staying strong, healthy and fit not only helps us live longer, it helps us be able to enjoy our favorite activities longer into life.
Strength Training Options
There are many options when it comes to strength training. It can be done at home with limited equipment. Or you can choose to go to a gym with machines and free-weights. Some common methods of resistance training include:
There are so many exercises you can do with little or no equipment. Some examples are: Push-ups, sit-ups, planks, squats and lunges.
Resistance Tubing or Bands
Tubing or bands are inexpensive and highly portable. It comes in different thicknesses providing different levels of resistance.
Barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells are the classic strength training tools. You can get a set of adjustable dumbbells at a reasonable price. One or two different weight kettlebells can add a lot of variety to the exercises you are able to do.
Suspension trainers (TRX)
These are a tool that you can attach to the top of a door jamb or an anchor in the ceiling and has two handles attached to straps or cables. You can suspend a body part like a foot while doing body weight exercises to increase the load on the working muscles.
Most big gyms and fitness centers have rows of weight machines. These can be plate-loaded or have a stack of built-in weight that you select using a pin. Most machines focus on one specific muscle or muscle group and work you in a fixed plane of motion.
If you have a chronic health condition or are over 40 years old you should check with your doctor before starting a new training program whether it’s on your own or with a certified trainer.
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends training all major muscle groups 2 times a week. This may equate to 2- 3 sessions of about 30 minutes of strength training per week. This can be supplemented with cardiovascular exercise such as jogging or walking on off days.
Start with a single set of exercises using a weight that is heavy enough to tire your muscles at 12 – 15 reps. As you get into a routine and your body starts to adapt to this level of stimulus you can begin to use more advanced training methods.
Strength training is great for most people who want to improve their health and fitness. There is no need to worry about getting too muscular or bulky (like body builders), unless that is what you want, that takes a specific type of weight training and specialized diet. Consider the benefits we discussed and when you are ready to make an investment in your health give strength training a try.
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Strength Training: Get stronger, leaner, healthier by The Mayo Clinic Staff
8 Ways Strength Training Boosts Your Health and Fitness by Chris Iliades, MD
11 Benefits of Strength Training That Have Nothing to Do with Muscle Size by K. Aleisha Fetters, MS, CSCS