Lifestyle » Vol. 5

Pumping Iron to Stay Youthful, Fit and Strong

By Linnea Sheldon

Strength training was once viewed as the workout of body builders and football players, but in recent years the idea has spread as the benefits of strength training are wider known. People of all ages and backgrounds are now reaping the rewards of a strength training program, which can improve muscle strength and endurance, improve bone density, and help with weight maintenance.

As we age, we tend to lose muscle and bone mass, as well as strength and flexibility. These losses can lead us to a life of immobility and dependence. Strength training is one way to turn the clock back and prevent injuries.

Basic recommendations from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) state that most adults should do eight to 10 strength-training exercises, at 10-15 repetitions of each exercise, two to three times per week, with 48 hours rest between sessions. People also should engage in a regular aerobic exercise program. Those adults with chronic conditions should work with a health-care professional in order to develop a program that is safe and beneficial.

Lorna Rousseau, group fitness director at Gold’s Gym in Marlborough, points out that building and strengthening muscles can help out with a variety of health conditions as we age. “Not only does strength training prevent bone loss and muscle loss,” she said, “it also helps control weight and strengthens our bodies to help prevent fractures and other age-related injuries, as well as strengthening joints to help alleviate chronic pain.”

Rousseau recommends that you first seek the advice of your doctor before beginning any exercise program. “At the beginning, always take it slow, and ask for help if you are not sure what you are doing,” she explained. “Hiring a trainer, even for a couple sessions is always a good idea, or try a class that is geared towards older adults.”

The American Heart Association (AHA) and ACSM have worked together to create a group of physical activity recommendations for active aging. The sooner you follow these guidelines and begin a physical activity program, including strength training, the better.

By strengthening the entire body, active adults are also lessening their chances of falling, while relieving pressure on the body. Functional training is another feature that strength training should encompass. By including exercises that mimic everyday activities, such as climbing stairs, and strengthening the muscles needed to do these activities, we can help ease the stress that these activities may have on the body.

According to ACSM, most strength training sessions should last between 20 and 45 minutes and include the following muscle groups: chest, shoulders, arms, back, abdomen, and legs. It is very important to include all of these muscles groups, and train the body evenly so that it is balanced.

Rousseau assures us it’s not as intimidating as it seems. “If you are unsure of how to put together a routine to target these areas, or if you think you are doing your weight training improperly, consult with an exercise professional,” she said. “You can do more harm than good by using bad form or doing the wrong exercises.”

ACSM also points out that in order to continue to see improvements from your strength training program it is important to consistently change the program, adding progression and variation when needed.

Along with a proper strength training program, ACSM also recommends moderate intensity aerobic exercise 30 minutes a day, five days a week, as well as balance exercises. Rousseau adds that a proper diet is key. She also stresses the importance of staying well-hydrated – before, during, and after exercise.

For more information please visit the American College of Sports Medicine at www.acsm.org.

Linnea Sheldon is an American Council on Exercise Certified Personal Trainer.

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