You who have known me through this newsletter/blog for awhile know me as a raw food enthusiast and a health coach. Both have been a big part of my life for the last 15 years, ever since I first discovered all the benefits of a high raw food diet. (See more about that right here.)
Then came certification as a holistic health coach, where most of my energy went towards helping other people achieve much better health and energy mostly by improving their diets. Through all these years, I continued my long years of regular bicycling, swimming, and an on-again, off-again yoga practice, which got more regular in more recent years.
Never had I given a thought to weight training. Ever. Never gonna’ be a gym rat! Have a trainer? Who needs that! Waste of money. I can get all the exercise I need……
And so it went until my shoulder got injured. It wasn’t an acute injury, but rather just worn out parts on an aging body, with just enough anomaly in my swimming strokes, or yoga poses, combined with 7 children on the same hip for years, the purse on the same shoulder for years….. life happening. Can you relate?
The injury slowed me down considerably – couched me, really, until I found the right treatment for it. Then followed recovery, testing the shoulder in the water, and a gradual comeback to my exercise routines. By then, nearly a year and a half after the trouble started, I had heard plenty about the importance of doing strength and conditioning work to slow the softening of aging bones, and the diminishment of aging muscles. Eventually, I did join a gym, (another story about having to switch swimming pools), and signed up for a group fitness class.
Through a lucky administrative fluke at the facility, I was offered 3 free personal training sessions. And here begins the story of me totally changing my thinking and my behavior regarding gyms, weight lifting, strength and conditioning, and yes, becoming at least a part time gym rat, even one with a trainer! Total turnaround.
It was a new world for me and brought with it a remarkable change of heart as well as changes in my body – all for the better. I do feel better, move better, live better than I ever thought possible as I keep right on aging. So convinced am I about the benefits of this work, that I am adding “personal trainer” to my health coaching practice. Exercise is, after all a partner with good eating and otherwise healthy living as we make choices to maintain and improve our health.
Let me be clear. Aerobic exercise, the stuff of my entire adulthood – running, walking, biking, swimming – is still a constitutive dimension to a healthy living regimen. It keeps our cardio-vascular system running well, our heart and circulatory systems humming. But it does not do some of the things that many of us, myself included, think of until mid-life, when the reports of “osteopenia” roll in and it starts getting harder to take stairs two at a time or open almond butter jars.
Also known as strength training, resistance training incorporates exercises designed to improve strength and endurance. It is often associated with weights and the lifting thereof, but resistance bands and body weight can be used, as well. It strengthens muscles to keep our joints stable, which, in turn keeps them functioning properly and decreases or even eliminates pain and injury.
Resistance training is also tied to “sustainable” weight loss, the kind of loss that stays off, as it increases lean muscle tissue in the body, which increases the basal metabolic rate (BMR), which determines the number of calories that get burnt, even at rest. The truth is that the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn.
What strength training does is apply strain on the muscle and bones in targeted areas. This activates cellular growth in the muscles and bones, maintaining their strength and vitality through the aging process.
Aging and Resistance Training
Resistance training is a great way to increase bone density, which gets to be an important consideration as we age….after 30, really. With advancing age, the body turns to your bones as a source of essential minerals, like calcium and phosphorus. It does this for a variety of reasons, often to help balance your blood pH, something your body insists on for life. At the same time, it becomes harder to replenish your bones with minerals from the good foods you eat. Resistance training can help activate bone and muscle cell growth in a way that’s crucial to overall longevity.
Women are more at risk for bone health-depleting conditions like osteoporosis and should consider working resistance training into their routines one to three times a week to help combat this weakening.
Both men and women can receive enormous benefit from regular resistance training. You can begin with resistance bands to do bodyweight-only routines. Then work your way to dumbbells, kettle bells and more. Starting gradually this way eases you into new routines and will introduce you to basic strength moves like squats, lunges, deadlifts, rows and extensions. Understanding good form in these moves before getting into heavier weights will help to keep you from strains and injuries.
I had been toying with these things. It wasn’t until I met my trainer “gift” that I saw the real benefit of working with a certified trainer. It made a huge difference to be assured of working the correct muscles for each exercise, as well as working hard enough at each one to actually do me some good.
Resistance training is a good teacher. I’ve had to “listen” to more parts of my body much more carefully than ever before, even though I considered myself fairly “body-aware.” The idea is to feel like you could have done more after the workout is complete rather than complete exhaustion. And a good day or two rest between resistance workouts is recommended, so you feel fit and ready to work when you go at it again.
Do I recommend strength training? You bet I do! I suggest getting some initial advice from a qualified trainer to help you master proper form and proper technique, and create a personalized plan that works for you, your lifestyle and fitness goals. There may also be the opportunity to follow up with some group strength and conditioning group work. It’s all money well spent, just like eating good food is, and you will move better, feel better, live better!