Let’s focus in the new year on health benefits of exercise, especially for older adults. Some benefits include reducing one’s risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, as well as lowering high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
In addition, regular exercise can reduce the risk of developing various types of cancer and improve mental health conditions like depression, anxiety and insomnia. Stronger bone health is another side benefit and exercise can also reduce one’s risk of falling. It is never too late to start exercising. Research has shown that even people who start to exercise in their 80s gained significant health benefits.
Having established that exercise promotes improved health, the question becomes what type of exercise is recommended. One under-appreciated form of exercise with significant benefits is strength training. Strength training means using specific muscle groups to overcome resistance. Examples in our day-to-day lives would include cutting the lawn pushing a manual lawn mower, shoveling snow or lifting a full suitcase into the overhead luggage compartment on a plane.
Strength training can be accomplished by lifting weights and/or using resistance machines or equipment at home or at a fitness center. Other ways of participating in strength training include doing pushups, pull-ups, planks and squats. If one has never performed strength training, it can be helpful to start under the supervision of an experienced trainer or a fitness specialist.
Before starting a workout, it is helpful to warm up for five to 10 minutes by walking or performing stretching exercises. Research has shown that 12 to 15 repetitions of an exercise can help to build improved muscle strength in most people. In general, it is recommended one should rest one full day between workouts related to one specific muscle group. If any exercise causes pain, one should stop doing that exercise. Current recommendations are to perform strength training workouts two to three times per week for about 30 minutes per workout.
Let’s talk about the specific health benefits of strength training. First of all, it’s important to know that lean muscle mass naturally goes down with aging. When one loses muscle mass, this can affect your metabolism, balance and ability to prevent injuries due to falls. Strength training helps to preserve and improve one’s muscle mass at any age.
In addition, one can develop strong healthy, bones and reduce the chances of developing osteoporosis. If one already has osteopenia or osteoporosis, strength training can help to improve bone density. One’s metabolism can speed up through strength training which can help to manage or lose weight if needed. If one is suffering with a chronic conditions, such as heart disease, depression, diabetes, obesity or back pain, strength training can help to manage many of the signs and symptoms associated with these conditions. Strength training, like other forms of exercise can improve your mood by stimulating your body to produce feel good hormones called endorphins. Painful arthritis can also be improved by strengthening the muscle groups around the affected joint, which takes stress away from the joint that is arthritic.
If you have a new year’s resolution to start on an exercise program to improve your health, I recommend you give strong consideration to strength training.
Dr. Mark Roth writes about internal medicine for the Cleveland Jewish News. He is an internal medicine physician with University Hospitals.