A lot of my female clients will tell me that they don’t want to build muscle; they just want to “tone” their muscles. To achieve the toned appearance they’re looking for, in most cases it is ultimately necessary for women to build muscle and lose fat – doing both at the same time is certainly challenging, though not impossible. The best way to do this is to incorporate strength training (also referred to as resistance training) and cardio. In fact, strength training can help you achieve your weight loss goals faster than cardio alone. Cardio has its place, and is recommended for heart health and fat burning, but it’s generally not sufficient for most people to reach their goals. In fact you can also achieve cardiovascular benefits from strength training.
While physical appearance tends to lead the ranks of reasons to add physical activity to your life, and may be the factor that gets most people started, I like to educate people on a couple more important considerations: your health and your quality of life, particularly as we get older. Advances in medicine can keep you alive, but to have energy, vitality and independence for years to come, physical activity should be something viewed as a permanent part of your life. And stop fearing the weights and the bulk. You might just learn to love it as I do.
Here are some of the health benefits of strength training.
Reversing the Signs of Aging
No, I’m not selling an anti-wrinkle cream. I can’t guarantee fewer wrinkles, but you might just see a more youthful glow after spending some quality time doing some form of resistance/strength training. More and more fitness experts are recommending strength training for health reasons--for women as well as men, older adults as well as younger adults. Strength training is extremely important in combating the age-related declines in muscle mass, bone density and metabolism. It is an effective way to increase muscle strength and to shed unwanted inches. Strength training also helps to decrease back pain, reduce arthritic discomfort, and help prevent or manage some diabetic symptoms.
Traditionally it has been thought that it was normal to become weak and frail as we age and it was simply a part of aging that the metabolism would slow down and weight gain was inevitable. This is really not true. In reality it is inactivity that causes muscle and bone loss and the loss of the muscle as well as inactivity that lowers the metabolism. With some exceptions, most people at any age can prevent or reverse these age-related declines to varying degrees by starting a strength training program. It’s a good idea to consult your physician and a fitness professional if you have or suspect you may have any health conditions
According to a recent article in Forbes Magazine:
"The average 30-35 year old person will experience roughly a 25 percent decline in his or her muscle strength and tone by the age of 70-75, and up to a 50 percent decline approaching the age of 90. Simply doing aerobic exercise such as walking or light treadmill workouts will not be adequate to preserve muscle tone, bone health, balance and posture. If you are not engaging in strength or resistance training, the chances are high that you will lose strength and become less functional as you age.
... Research has clearly shown that strength training can help to reduce the pace of bone loss, while some studies have demonstrated that such training can actually help to build bone... Movements and exercises that place stress on bones help to form additional calcium deposits and stimulate bone forming cells."
Strength Training and Heart Health
Chronic congestive heart failure is the inability of your heart to supply your body with a sufficient amount of blood. It’s no secret that cardiovascular exercise is important for heart health. That’s pretty common knowledge--Hence the name. People are less aware of the positive impact of strength training for the heart. Resistance exercise has been shown to produce greater increases in blood flow to the limbs and led to a longer-lasting drop in blood pressure (as much as 20 percent) after exercise, compared to aerobic exercise.
Muscle Vs Fat
I won’t get into the debate over which weighs more, because my position isn’t the popular position, but I hope we can agree that 1lb of muscle takes up less space in your body than 1lb of fat and dare I say it’s more attractive. Abstaining from physical activity causes an average muscle loss of 5-7 pounds per decade. This muscle loss leads to a metabolic rate reduction of 2-5% per decade. Calories that were previously used for muscle energy are put into fat storage, resulting in gradual weight gain. One study on older adults showed that a 3 month basic strength training program resulted in exercisers adding 3 pounds of muscle and losing 4 pounds of fat, while eating 15% more calories. Also note that if they used only a regular bathroom scale, they would see only 1 pound lost. Forget the scale. Lift some weights and see the change over time.
Maintaining Bone Density
Bone density is an important component of maintaining mobility and independence as we age. Hip fractures are the leading cause of admission into nursing homes in the United States. A combination of weak muscle and bones results in increased incidence of falls and breaks in elderly patients. Ideally, starting strength training early would prevent Osteopenia and Osteoporosis, however resistance training may help build new bone. In one study, postmenopausal women who participated in a strength training program for a year saw significant increases in their bone density in the spine and hips, areas affected most by osteoporosis in older women.
Managing Blood Sugar Levels
Without getting too technical, blood sugar (glucose) is released into the blood stream when we eat and it is either used by the muscles or stored for later. Insulin is a hormone released to aid in the storage. Poor eating habits, excessive intake of sugar and carbohydrates overtaxes the system and insulin becomes less capable of dealing with the sugar. This is what is referred to as insulin resistance. Often insulin is thought of as the bad guy, because people don’t fully understand its importance, but it’s really when the body won’t allow insulin to do its job that we have a problem. Characterized by insulin resistance and chronic hyperglycemia, Type 2 Diabetes leads to both neural and metabolic dysfunction and is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Studies have a shown a combination of healthy nutrition, strength training and cardiovascular exercise yield better results than did nutrition alone or nutrition and cardio without strength training.
I hope you have found this article helpful and it encourages you to consider adding resistance training to your life. Perhaps I should add here that you should expect this to be forever. Not for a month or 12 months or 3 years. So find a way to make this work for you and to be enjoyable. Also note that resistance training doesn’t have to mean lifting weights. It can include body weight exercises, such as pushups or squats, resistance bands and yoga. Some people find working out in a group setting to be more enjoyable, so maybe try a group fitness class. A knowledgeable instructor will help you modify to your level. Exercise with a friend, spouse, sibling, your child or your parent. There are ways to make your fitness into a social time. Exercise can be enjoyable. It doesn’t have to be a grueling experience.
I can’t stress enough. Find something you enjoy. Keep trying something new until you find something that works for you. If you enjoy it, you’re more likely to make it a lifelong commitment.
Still not sure where to start? Consider hiring a personal trainer. Talk with a few trainers before you commit so you know you can feel comfortable with this person and that he or she has your best interests in mind. A good trainer will help you become confident and capable of fitting fitness into your lifestyle. Go forth and be strong! You will thank yourself later!
Cheers and Happy Lifting!