Looking for the fountain of youth? Pick up a set of dumbbells, a kettlebell (a ball-shaped weight with a single handle) or a resistance band. Strength training offers a multitude of benefits, including ramping up your metabolism to help lose or maintain weight.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that it can also be very powerful in reducing the signs and symptoms of numerous diseases and chronic conditions, among them:
- back pain
Strength Train to Maintain a Healthy Weight
The CDC asserts that strength training is crucial to weight control, because individuals who have more muscle mass have a higher metabolic rate. Muscle is active tissue that consumes calories while stored fat uses very little energy. Strength training can provide up to a 15 percent increase in metabolic rate, which is enormously helpful for weight loss and long-term weight control.
Strength Train to Feel Better
Regular strength training can help improve balance and reduce fall risk, decrease arthritis pain and strengthen bones, thus reducing fracture risk. It can also improve glucose control, improve sleep quality and state of mind and support better heart health.
Common Questions and Answers About Strength Training
Following are some common questions about strength training, and answers from trusted sources:
- Won’t strength training bulk me up?
This question is most commonly asked by women who fear an overly muscular look. The truth is, to bulk up as a bodybuilder aims to do, you would need to spend a significant amount of time lifting very heavy weights and you would need to be eating a surplus of calories to support building serious muscle mass. You can easily find a strength training program that will help you gain just the right amount of muscle mass to crank up your metabolism and burn stored body fat so you actually end up leaner and tighter. If you combine strength training with a nutrition plan aimed at losing or maintaining weight you will find yourself losing weight or fitting into smaller sizes even if the scale doesn’t move much.
- I walk/swim/take Zumba classes – isn’t that good enough?
The CDC reports that “While aerobic exercise, such as walking, jogging, or swimming, has many excellent health benefits — it maintains the heart and lungs and increases cardiovascular fitness and endurance — it does not make your muscles strong. Strength training does. Studies have shown that lifting weights two or three times a week increases strength by building muscle mass and bone density.”
Still not convinced? The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that an increase in muscle that you can't even see can make it easier to do everyday things like get up from a chair, climb stairs, carry groceries, open jars, and even play with your grandchildren. Lower-body strength exercises also will improve your balance.
Michele Brannock, 69, of Upper Arlington, Ohio, picked up her first kettlebell six years ago. She worked with a trainer for six weeks to master proper form and said she has benefitted tremendously from for this particular form of strength training.
“I stand taller now,” she said. “My balance has improved, I have fewer aches and pains. I don’t have the tummy bulge anymore, and my back pain is completely gone. Nothing else I have done exercise wise has helped by back like training with kettle bells.”
So How Do I Get Started?
The National Institute of Health recommends doing strength training exercises for all of your major muscle groups on two or more days a week. You should not work the same muscle groups two days in a row. Your muscles need 48 hours or more to recover in between strength sessions. So you could either do a full-body strength training routine three days a week – for example, Monday, Wednesday and Friday or Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, or if you prefer to keep your strength sessions shorter, you might break them up into upper-body strength and lower-body strength sessions and work your upper body Monday, Wednesday and Friday and your lower body Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Strength training should complement rather than replace cardiovascular exercise, which is also important, as are balance and flexibility training. Here are more tips to help you look and feel younger:
- Depending on your condition, you might need to start with very light weights – 1-3 lb. dumbbells. For exercises in which your bodyweight already provides some resistance – such as squats and lunges, you might not need to use weights at all – at first. Your goal should be to gradually increase the amount of weight you lift in order to continue to progress.
- Choose a weight you can lift for 10-15 repetitions. Your first rep should not feel very, very hard, but your final rep should. You want to be able to complete 10-15 repetitions with good form – if you cannot; your weight is too heavy. If you can complete 15 reps and feel like you could still do many more, your weight is too light.
- Take at least two counts to lift the weights and two counts to lower them.
- Exhale as you lift the weights, and inhale as you lower them. If you cannot sync your breathing perfectly at first, do not stress about it – the most important thing is to never hold your breath while exercising.
- Or, check out these recommendations from the CDC.
- You can also join a local gym or recreation center, sign up for a group fitness class, hire a personal trainer or purchase an exercise DVD – or check one out from the library – if you want additional guidance.
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