Ten reasons to consider doing strength exercises
I used to be a total cardio junkie (and probably still would be if I hadn’t been injured!) but with an aging body (!) and two knee surgeries, strength training has had to nudge cardio over a bit! My days of clocking up miles and miles on the bike, running up mountains and swimming long distances aren’t over – just more balanced with strength training now.
To be able to keep my body healthy and injury-free I have been somewhat ‘forced’ into the gym to ‘strengthen my core’ and ‘strengthen my knees’. Taking my physio’s advice (not much choice as he is my hubby!), I reluctantly started going to the gym more often and developed my own routine for home. Gradually I actually began to enjoy it and the new-found strength and toning that came with it.
The beauty of a strength workout for me is I can do it in 20-30 minutes and I can do it at home (often with the kids accompanying me or making it more challenging for me as I try to do sit ups with a kid on me!). No babysitters required and my children see exercise as a normal part of a day – benefits that make it manageable and worthwhile.
So, aside from my own positive experience with strength training – what general benefits does it have? Well, here are ten reasons why you should really give it a go:
Muscle size, strength and tone
Improves muscle, tendon and ligament strength. Carrying out daily tasks such as lifting and carrying things becomes much easier. The conditioning effect also results in firmer and better defined muscles (think 6 pack!).
Your overall body flexibility improves which reduces the risk of injuries and back pain.
As you get stronger, you will find you don’t tire as much. You will find the benefits go through to your cardio workouts and your endurance improves.
As you begin to weight train you usually gain muscle and lose fat. As a result weight loss isn’t often reflected in the scales but you will definitely see changes in body measurements and before and after photos. It helps not only in weight loss but in weight maintenance too. One of the key benefits is that it also helps maintain muscle mass while losing weight.
Strength training increases bone density and reduces the risk of osteopenia or osteoporosis. It also improves bone and joint function.
Balance and coordination
You generally find your posture, balance and coordination improve. In older adults this is particularly important as strength training can reduce the risk of falls by up to 50%.
An increase in muscle mass will mean an increase in metabolism, sometimes this can be up to a 15% increase.
Reduces risk factors for health disease and diabetes, by lowering blood pressure and improving glycemic control and insulin resistance. It also lowers all-cause mortality.
Boosts your mood
Like cardio workouts, strength training also increases endorphins during your workout, which give you that feel good factor. It has also been shown to be a great anti-depressant, help you sleep better, increase mental clarity and improve your overall quality of life. Other improvements include self-esteem, reduced fatigue, pain management from low back pain, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia.
Cognition, or how we process information, shows small to moderate improvements from strength training, in healthy older adults with memory tasks showing greatest improvements.
So, what do I need to do?
Ideally you should include muscle strengthening activities at least twice a week and allow one rest day between your workouts. Aim to work all of your large muscle groups and do 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions^ each.
Try to vary your program every six to eight weeks. There are a number of ways to vary it including the number of reps, sets, exercise modifications, intensity, speed, frequency of sessions, rests between sets etc.
Don’t be intimidated by weights, and remember you can do a great routine just using your own body weight (exercises such as plank, mountain climbers, squats, lunges and burpees). To get you started, I have video of the plank that you can try and see how you get on.
It’s a great addition to weight loss efforts and to a healthy lifestyle in general. If you have any questions on how to get started or anything else just let me know on Facebook. : )
Some ‘technical terms’ explained
*Strength training (often called resistance or weight training) is the use of resistance (our own body weight or external weights) to muscular contraction to build the strength, anaerobic endurance and size of skeletal muscles.
Reps (or Repetitions) are the number of times you continuously repeat each exercise in a set.
Sets is a group of repetitions performed without resting. For example, two sets of lunges by 12 reps would mean that you do 12 lunges, then rest before doing another 12.
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