Want to live longer and better? Do strength training
Regular physical activity promotes general good health, reduces the risk of developing many diseases, and helps you live a longer and healthier life. For many of us, "exercise" means walking, jogging, treadmill work, or other activities that get the heart pumping.
But often overlooked is the value of strength-building exercises. Once you reach your 50s and beyond, strength (or resistance) training is critical to preserving the ability to perform the most ordinary activities of daily living — and to maintaining an active and independent lifestyle.
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The average 30-year-old will lose about a quarter of his or her muscle strength by age 70 and half of it by age 90. "Just doing aerobic exercise is not adequate," says Dr. Robert Schreiber, physician-in-chief at Hebrew SeniorLife and an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School. "Unless you are doing strength training, you will become weaker and less functional."
What is strength training?
Strength training encompasses any of the following:
- Free weights, such as barbells and dumbbells
- Ankle cuffs and vests containing different amounts of weight
- Resistance (elastic) bands of varying length and tension that you flex using your arms and legs
- Exercises that use your body weight to create resistance against gravity.
How much do you need?
A beginner's strength-building workout takes as little as 20 minutes, and you won't need to grunt, strain, or sweat like a cartoon bodybuilder, either. The key is developing a well-rounded program, performing the exercises with good form, and being consistent. You will experience noticeable gains in strength within four to eight weeks.
Buying your own equipment is one option. Sets of basic introductory-weight dumbbells cost $50-$100. Health clubs offer the most equipment choices, but of course, you have to pay monthly fees. Books and videos can help you learn some basic moves and start developing a routine. Many senior centers and adult education programs offer strength training classes, as well.
However you start, go slow so you don't injure yourself. Discuss your new exercise plan with your doctor and explain the level of workout you expect to achieve. Mild to moderate muscle soreness between workouts is normal, but back off if it persists more than a few days.
For more information on the benefits of strength training, buy Strength and Power Training, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.
8 tips for safe and effective strength training
Strong muscles are important for healthy bodies. One way to keep muscles in shape is with strength training. But performing muscle-strengthening exercises the wrong way can do more harm than good. Here are some guidelines to help you avoid injury and keep your program on track.
- Always warm up and cool down properly.
- Use proper form to avoid injuries and maximize gains. You can learn good form through a class or one-on-one sessions with a certified exercise professional.
- Breathe out when you are lifting or pushing; breathe in as you slowly release the load or weight. Never hold your breath while straining. This action, called the Valsalva maneuver, can temporarily raise your blood pressure considerably and can be risky for people with cardiovascular disease.
- Don't lock your joints; always leave a slight bend in your knees and elbows when straightening out your legs and arms.
- Don't be so eager to see results that you risk hurting yourself by exercising too long or choosing too much weight. And remember that it's important to rest muscles for at least 48 hours between strength training sessions.
- If you've been sick, give yourself one or two days off after recovering. If you were ill for a while, you may need to use lighter weights or less resistance when you first resume exercising.
- Strength training exercises should not cause pain while you are doing them. If an exercise or movement causes significant pain, stop doing it! When performing an exercise, stick with a range of motion that feels comfortable. Over time, try to gradually extend that range.
- Listen to your body and cut back if you aren't able to finish a series of exercises or an exercise session, can't talk while exercising, feel faint after a session, feel tired during the day, or suffer joint aches and pains after a session.
For more on developing the best strength training program for you, buy Strength and Power Training, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.
Strength and Power Training
|•||The basics: Strength training, power training, and your muscles|
|•||The health benefits of power and strength training|
|•||Getting set up|
|•||Designing your program|
|•||... and more!|
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