When you think of strength training, your first thought may be of a bodybuilder laboring to lift heavy weights. It need not be so extreme, though. Everyone can reap the health benefits of muscle strengthening. Unfortunately, too few Americans are minding their muscles, according to a recent government study.
In a national telephone survey, researchers asked nearly 500,000 adults about their physical activity. They wanted to know the types of exercise people engaged in, the frequency of such activity, and the duration. They then compared those responses with the recommended guidelines for physical activity from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Investigators found that just over half of Americans fit in enough aerobic activity, such as walking, running, and biking. The statistics for strength training were even weaker. Less than one-third of adults managed to meet the national guideline. Not surprising, men more than women reported adequate muscle-strengthening time. Those between ages 18 and 24 did strength training most often.
HHS experts recommend adults do strengthening exercises on all major muscle groups at least two days a week. That can mean more than simply lifting weights. You can strengthen your muscles with resistance exercises, such as pushups, sit-ups, and leg lifts. Heavy gardening and yoga count, too.
When done properly, muscle strengthening shapes up more than muscle. It can fine tune flexibility and balance. It can also boost bone density — a valuable asset in older age. We naturally lose muscle and bone as we grow older.
Muscle strengthening can help with weight control, too. That's because muscle burns more calories than fat. Like aerobic activity, strength training can also improve your sleep and your heart health. Plus, it can ease the symptoms of often-disabling conditions, such as arthritis and back pain. Research has shown it's also beneficial for people with diabetes, depression, and osteoporosis.
If you want to add some muscle-strengthening activities to your exercise routine, follow these tips:
Talk with your doctor first before starting any new physical activity, especially if you have a chronic condition such as diabetes or heart disease. Your doctor can help you pick activities that are appropriate for you.
Choose the right equipment. Make sure you wear properly fitting shoes and comfortable clothing. If you work out at home, select an exercise space with ample room for movement.
Alternate muscle groups. Try not to exercise the same muscles, such as your legs, on consecutive days.
Use weights properly. Lift and lower them slowly. Avoid jerking movements and don’t hold your breath. Inhale as you lift and exhale as you relax.
Build your strength gradually. Start with one or two sets of a certain exercise — a pushup or a side arm raise, for example. Do that activity eight to 10 times, or repetitions, per a set. If you need to rest after 10 repetitions, you are working out at a good intensity. Add more sets or weight as the activity becomes easier to do.
If you haven't started lifting weights, it may be because you have run into some of the myths about strength training. Read on to dispel these myths and to get the facts about strength training. Taking time each week to build your strength can help you live a more healthy and independent life.
Myth: Strength training is for young people only.
Fact: Nearly everyone can benefit from strength training, including the elderly. Older adults who participate in strength training programs have improved self-confidence and self-esteem, as well as more muscle mass and greater bone density. Besides making you stronger, strength training may help ease arthritis pain, improve heart health, help with weight control, and improve blood glucose control.
Myth: Strength training is for men only.
Fact: It may be even more important for women to strengthen their bones and muscles than it is for men. After menopause, women lose an average of 1 to 2 percent of their bone mass every year. Strength training can help slow this loss. It helps delay the progression of osteoporosis (a disease that causes bones to weaken). Strength training can also slow muscle loss and improve balance, which can help reduce the risk of falls.
Myth: Strength training is dangerous.
Fact: Strength training is safe as long as it is done correctly. You can learn the proper way to use weights by working with a qualified trainer at a local gym or senior center. As with any new exercise, be sure to talk with your health care provider before starting a strength-training program.
Myth: I am too weak for strength training.
Fact: Strength training can be especially helpful if your muscles are weak. It can help make you stronger and improve your balance and flexibility. No matter how weak you may feel, there are strengthening exercises for you. Start with a low weight, or even no weight—using your own body for resistance—and slowly build up as you feel stronger.
Myth: Strength training is difficult to learn.
Fact: For most people, free weights and weight machines are not difficult to master. Work with a trainer or take a class at your gym, senior citizen center, YWCA, or YMCA. Once you are comfortable using free weights, you may want to buy some to use at home.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
1020 Fertitta Blvd.
Leesville, LA 71446