Weight Training: Better Fitness, Better Health – Part I

I’ve been physically very active since 1978. I quit smoking then, and took up regular running, or jogging, as we called it in those days. In 1994 a couple of my grown daughters talked me into joining a masters swimming group. “You’ll love this, Mom!” one of them said.

I still swim regularly, though both of them quit and moved on to other adventures. Then, in 1996 my husband and I dusted off our bikes, built up some miles, joined a biking group suitable to our “maturity” pace, and biked through much of the Midwest. Good times, for sure.  I have also practiced yoga off and on for years, and even worked with some free weights at home.

Why do I tell you all of this?  Because lately I have once again been reminded that with improving diet and lifestyle, there is no “there” there. We either keep improving on both fronts as we age, or we lose what we have worked to gain, eventually ending up in some diseased or disabled state. I didn’t want that for myself.

Recently, after hearing plenty about bone and muscle loss in aging women, and the need for weight bearing exercises to offset it, I reached a point where I knew I had to do more strength training.

Long story short here, I ended up with a fitness trainer, (something I never wanted to do, but that’s another story), in a big gym, (in spite of my best efforts to never be a “gym rat!”)

What a great surprise! It has all been very wonderful! I have been so impressed by not only the skill, knowledge, and sensitivity of my trainer, but the amazingly quick response that my body has made to the increased work load. I note a big energy increase, better sleep, noticeably more power in the pool, and, of course, more flexibility and muscle strength.

I have also been so impressed with my own progress in a few short months that I am now working with my trainer to start a strength and conditioning class for women over 50, and it already has promising results. There is, I am convinced, a great need for this!

Women over 50 are quite aware – we hear it all the time – that we need to work our muscles hard so as to avoid the muscle and bone loss that occurs naturally with age if we don’t . Hence, the great response to our efforts in starting this class.

Basics

Weight Training is what we are talking about here. Resistance with weights provides a stress to the muscles that causes them to adapt and get stronger, in a similar way that aerobic conditioning, also an important activity at any age, strengthens the heart.

Free weights such as barbells and dumbbells, and weight machines count, as do resistance exercises which use your body weight or resistance bands.

Time Commitment

It needn’t be a 90-minutes a day thing to see some amazing results.  For most people, short weight training sessions a couple of times a week are more practical than are more extended daily workouts. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends incorporating strength training exercises of all the major muscle groups into a fitness routine at least two times a week.

Proper Technique

Weight training offers important health benefits when done properly. However, it can lead to injuries, such as sprains, strains, and even fractures, if not done correctly.

  • I highly recommend working in the beginning with a certified trainer to insure safety ad learn proper technique. Even experienced athletes brush up on their form occasionally.
  • Warm up. Cold muscles are more prone to injury than are warm muscles.  Try a brisk walk or another aerobic activity for five or ten minutes before working with weights.
  • Do a single set of repetitions. There are many opinions on this subject, but research shows that a single set o exercise with a weight that fatigues your muscle after about 12 to 15 repetitions can build muscle efficiently in most people and can be as effective as three sets of the same exercise.
  • Use the proper weight, which is heavy enough to tire you muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions.  The last one should be hard to do, but doable.
  • Start slowly. If this is a new activity for you, a few pounds may feel like a lot. That’s ok. The good news is that once your muscles, tendons, and ligaments get used to this new thing, you will progress quickly. Once those 12 to 15 repetitions feel easy, make a gradual increase in the weight.
  • Take a break. Muscles need time to recover, so rest one full day between exercising each specific muscle group. You may choose to work the major muscle groups at a single session two to three times a week, or plan daily sessions for specific muscle groups. For example, on Monday, work your arms and shoulders, on Tuesday work your legs, and so on.

Reap the Rewards!

Lean muscle mass naturally decreases with age. If you don’t do anything to replace the muscle loss, it will be replaced with fat. Weight training can help to reverse the trend – no matter what your age or stage in life.

As your muscle mass increases, you’ll be able to lift heavier weights for longer periods of time. You will also help to maintain your bone density, better manage your weight,  and improve your body’s metabolism. All of these rewards bear gifts of their own, which I will discuss in my next newsletter/blog.

Meanwhile, don’t wait. Start today. There are many upsides to weight training, and, as far as I can tell, no downsides.

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