Strength Training is Key to an Improved Quality of Life

strength training weightsMany times when I am out and about, I hear people talking about how they need to work out, or need to start weight training. Then, I hear the “BUT….”

Sometimes, it’s “BUT I am too old to start now.”  Other times, it’s women saying they know they should add some strength training BUT they don’t want to get big, bulky muscles. And then of course, there is that lingering excuse of “not having the time.” It’s time to shred the myths and excuses and really understand why it is important for people of ALL ages to engage in strength training.

Why You Need to Start Strength Training

Once we reach our 30’s, a physically inactive person will lose about a half a pound, or an average of 0.5% to 1% of muscle mass every year up to age 50. After the age of 50, this muscle loss accelerates, so much that an average inactive 50 yr old can expect to lose an additional 30% more of their muscle mass by the time they are 70! We could lose muscle strength, and flexibility, while also increasing the likelihood of injuries. As we age, our metabolic rate slows down, making it harder to keep a healthy weight. Our motor nerves begin to deteriorate, slowing down our reaction time, while our balance and hand-eye coordination become weaker. Over time, we lose calcium, which can lead to weak bones and an increased risk of fractures and osteoporosis. And, our body is less able to properly utilize glucose, which puts us at risk for diabetes. Those are just a few examples of what happens to our body as we age. As Bette Davis said, “Getting old is not for sissies!”

There is good news, though – research has shown that strength training can benefit men and women of all ages, including those with heart disease or arthritis. In fact, in one study, life expectancy was increased even in people who did not start working out regularly until they were in their 70’s. The bottom line is: The less you move your body, the faster it breaks down. So, seriously “use it or lose it.”

The Breakdown of Muscle Fiber Function

By definition, strength training is a concerted effort to use resistance or weights to work a muscle group. That means that to truly receive the benefits of strength training, you have to use some exertion. In other words, standing at your job, or doing housework is not enough to keep muscles healthy and strong. While aerobic exercise may require use of several muscle groups, not all of your muscle fibers are being used at the same time – and that’s where resistance training makes the biggest impact.

We have four types of muscle fibers , each capable of handling different amounts of work before being fatigued. I won’t go too far into physiology but, basically, you should know that Type I (slow twitch) moves a little bit of force over a long period of time, and therefore can work a long time before reaching fatigue,  (think talking or walking). And on the other end of the spectrum, Type II (fast twitch) moves a lot of force but only for a very short period of time (think lifting a super heavy weight). The other two fiber types (Type IIa, Type IIb) fall between these two.

If your muscles are able to engage in an activity, such as aerobic exercise, for more than 30 minutes, then only Type I fibers are working, because the other three will fatigue in that amount of time. However, when you are doing strength training, all four types of muscle fibers go to work in order to lift the weight or overcome the resistance factor. So, if you really want to work the most muscle possible – and you do! – You need activities that require more force, and that means… strength training.

Benefits of Strength Training

How does strength training benefit us at any age? The benefits affect more than just muscle strength. Here are a few:

  • Slows muscle loss
  • Maintains or increases joint flexibility
  • Increases muscle mass – metabolism increases body burns more calories, even at rest, making it easier to maintain a healthy body weight
  • Stronger bones – Bone loss is slowed, and bone density increases (great defense from osteoporosis)
  • Arthritis relief – One study by Tufts University showed strength training decreased pain by 43%, and improved the clinical signs and symptoms of the disease.
  • Improves brain function – coordination required to strength train keeps your brain active
  • Improves balance and decreases your risk for injury
  • Improved glucose control – one study of men and women with type II diabetes showed improvements in glucose control comparable to taking diabetes medication
  • Improved mood – strength training provides similar improvements in depression as anti-depressant medications for some people
  • Reduced risk of heart disease – one study found that cardiac patients showed increased aerobic capacity when they did strength training as part of their rehabilitation program

If this isn’t enough motivation to include some free weights or resistance bands to your workout, I don’t know what is!

Strength Training Does NOT Equal Huge & Bulky Muscles

I am sure many of you ladies (and some men) reading this are still concerned that strength training will bulk you up too much. Here is a question: do you already have naturally bulky muscles? If your answer is “no”, then you don’t have to worry about looking like “The Hulk” because your body does not have the genetic makeup for this. Yes, your muscles will be toned and healthy, but without steroid or gene-altering drugs, you will stay within a normal range for your body type. According to a study done by Wayne Westcott, PhD, in Massachusetts, the average woman who strength trains 2 – 3 times a week for two months will gain nearly 2 pounds of muscle and will lose 3.5 pounds of fat.

For women, strength training is additionally important because it is a load bearing exercise that helps fight off osteoporosis. According to research, 6 months of strength training can increase spinal bone mineral density by 13%. You will also be happy to know that the National Institutes for Health found that women who incorporated strength training just 2 days a week slowed the growth of abdominal fat. When you consider that one pound of muscle burns approximately 50 calories an hour, while one pound of fat only burns 2 calories/hr, you’ll probably want to get up to do some pushups and squats right now!

Keeping You Strong for Life

While there has been some controversy over whether or not kids should do strength training, the benefits of a proper strength-training program can last a lifetime. The Mayo Clinic supports strength training for kids so long as they are done properly, and the purpose is to build strength, and it’s NOT bodybuilding, weightlifting, powerlifting, or other competitive activities that push too hard.

Benefits of strength training for kids include:

  • Increase child’s muscle strength and endurance
  • Help protect the child’s muscles and joints from sports-related injuries
  • Improves child’s performance in nearly any sport, from dancing and figure skating to football and soccer
  • Strengthen bones
  • Help maintain a healthy weight
  • Improve confidence and self-esteem

From the age of 7 or 8, kids who are mature enough to follow directions and practice proper technique and form, can develop a healthy habit that may keep them focused on health and fitness throughout their lifetime. You may want to check with your pediatrician before your child starts a strength-training program, just to make sure there are no contradicting conditions that have not yet appeared.

Time is of the Essence

There is no better time to start a strength-training program than RIGHT NOW! The sooner you start, the sooner the benefits start kicking in. We should all be concerned about having strong muscles, healthy bones, increased metabolism, reduced risk for heart disease, better brain function, and feeling good as we age.

If you have questions, concerns, or think you might need some assistance or motivation getting started, please feel free to ask me anything here in the comments section below. I am here to help!  🙂