Strength Training is an Essential Fitness Component for Everyone
Years ago, it was called weight lifting, and associated with body builders and muscle-bound athletes.
Today, “strength training” is the popular term, and it’s regarded as an essential component of fitness for everyone.
But there are lingering myths that stop many people over 50 from reaping the benefits.
“Older folks often feel that strength training is more harmful than helpful,” says Wayne Westcott, a leading expert and prolific researcher on the subject.
Prof. Westcott is a professor of exercise science at Quincy College in Massachusetts and author of more than 400 articles and 26 books on the subject, most recently “Strength Training Past 50.”
Among common myths he has encountered among people over 50: the idea that strength training is bad for joints and the heart, and will make you too muscular.
In fact, Prof/Westcott said that strength workouts are even more important to middle-age people and seniors than the young.
By age 50, this equates to a loss of 21 lbs of muscle for men and 15 lbs for women.
Even if body weight does not increase during those years, there is a much greater percentage of fat, which alters the way the body works.
Muscle loss slows metabolism, sapping energy and setting the stage for weight gain.
It reduces the ability to process carbohydrates, leading to high blood sugar and diabetes. And it predisposes us to heart disease, aches and pains, frailty, falls, and loss of independence.
The loss of muscle also leaves us less functional and unable to do physical activities that were routine in our youth.
No matter how old you are 50, 60, 70, 80, or older strength training can reverse the process.
“There’s no significant difference in muscle gain at any age,” says Prof. Westcott. You might be surprised to learn that with the proper workouts, a person at age 70 can make the same percentage gains as a 20-year-old.
The fact is, strength training may be the closest thing we have to a fountain of youth. Among the benefits of strength training:
Younger metabolism: Muscle burns more calories than fat.
Fat loss: Strength training burns extra calories both while doing the exercises and for up to three days afterward.
Younger appearance: Replacing fat with muscle, makes a body thinner and more toned, creating a younger look.
Lower blood pressure: Numerous studies have shown that two months of regular strength training improves blood pressure levels, reducing risk for heart disease and stroke.
Healthier blood fats: Studies show strength training increases good cholesterol by 8 to 21%, decreases bad cholesterol by 13 to 23%, and reduces triglycerides.
Improved bone density: Substantial increases in bone mineral density are typically seen after several months of regular strength workouts.
Less frailty: It’s never too late. Strength training can dramatically enhance the ability of the elderly to get up and move around, and to spend less time in a wheelchair.
Studies of several thousand people by Prof. Westcott and other researchers show that two strength-training workouts per week, done the right way, are all it takes to rebuild muscle for people between the ages of 50 and 90.
Each workout typically lasts between 20 and 40 mins. A third workout per week will increase weight loss but doesn’t significantly increase gains in muscle or strength.
The best way to start is with machines in a gym or health club.
An effective exercise routine needs to work all the major muscle groups. To accomplish this, Westcott recommends using these five machines:
• Leg press.
• Chest press.
• Seated row machine.
• Lower back machine.
• Abdominal machine.
These are common pieces of strength-training equipment available in most health club chains. The staff at the facility will be able to identify these pieces of equipment for you.
Prof. Westcott says you should follow these three rules during a strength workout:
1. Do 10 to 15 repetitions on each machine.
2. Set the resistance so that your muscles are fatigued at the end of those repetitions.
3. Do each repetition slowly, taking 4 to 6 secs for each one.
The machines Westcott recommends are designed to control use of muscles, so that you work specific ones, in a safe way.
He also recommends getting some instruction from a professional trainer to learn how to set the resistance correctly and use each machine properly, for safety and maximum benefit.
The full version of this article appeared in Health Radar Newsletter.
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