When you think of strength training, your first thought may be of a bodybuilder laboring to lift heavy weights. It need not be so extreme, though. Everyone can reap the health benefits of muscle strengthening. Unfortunately, too few Americans are minding their muscles, according to a recent government study.
In a national telephone survey, researchers asked nearly 500,000 adults about their physical activity. They wanted to know the types of exercise people engaged in, the frequency of such activity, and the duration. They then compared those responses with the recommended guidelines for physical activity from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Investigators found that just over half of Americans fit in enough aerobic activity, such as walking, running, and biking. The statistics for strength training were even weaker. Less than one-third of adults managed to meet the national guideline. Not surprising, men more than women reported adequate muscle-strengthening time. Those between ages 18 and 24 did strength training most often.
HHS experts recommend adults do strengthening exercises on all major muscle groups at least two days a week. That can mean more than simply lifting weights. You can strengthen your muscles with resistance exercises, such as pushups, sit-ups, and leg lifts. Heavy gardening and yoga count, too.
When done properly, muscle strengthening shapes up more than muscle. It can fine tune flexibility and balance. It can also boost bone density — a valuable asset in older age. We naturally lose muscle and bone as we grow older.
Muscle strengthening can help with weight control, too. That's because muscle burns more calories than fat. Like aerobic activity, strength training can also improve your sleep and your heart health. Plus, it can ease the symptoms of often-disabling conditions, such as arthritis and back pain. Research has shown it's also beneficial for people with diabetes, depression, and osteoporosis.
If you want to add some muscle-strengthening activities to your exercise routine, follow these tips:
Talk with your doctor first before starting any new physical activity, especially if you have a chronic condition such as diabetes or heart disease. Your doctor can help you pick activities that are appropriate for you.
Choose the right equipment. Make sure you wear properly fitting shoes and comfortable clothing. If you work out at home, select an exercise space with ample room for movement.
Alternate muscle groups. Try not to exercise the same muscles, such as your legs, on consecutive days.
Use weights properly. Lift and lower them slowly. Avoid jerking movements and don’t hold your breath. Inhale as you lift and exhale as you relax.
Build your strength gradually. Start with one or two sets of a certain exercise — a pushup or a side arm raise, for example. Do that activity eight to 10 times, or repetitions, per a set. If you need to rest after 10 repetitions, you are working out at a good intensity. Add more sets or weight as the activity becomes easier to do.
Still not sure if strength training is for you? Read this article.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services