Lift Your Way to Health

Health, Home & Family
on August 27, 2000

Weight rooms are no longer the domain of power-lifting men. Today, about 39 million Americans lift weights a 62 percent increase since the 1970s, mostly women and older adults. Indeed, strength training is one of America’s favorite workouts. And with good reason. Strength training is as important to health as cardiovascular conditioning, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Stronger muscles can greatly reduce injury risk, while improving balance and endurance.

The average American loses 6.6 pounds of muscle every decade after young adulthood; by age 65 or 70 the body has doubled its fat and lost half its muscle mass. This means less support for jointssetting the stage for back, hip, and shoulder injuries. With less muscle to burn calories, metabolism also slows.

Another age-related risk is osteoporosis, a debilitating and sometimes fatal bone-thinning disease causing hunched backs. A 50-year-old woman

today has about a 50 percent chance of developing osteoporosis in her remaining years. By age 70, one-sixth of all men suffer a hip fracture due to this disease.

But weight-bearing exercises can help you reach the highest possible bone mass by age 40 and slow gradual loss. Building muscle after 40 can rejuvenate one’s whole physiology. In one study, 12 men between the ages of 60 and 72 were put on regular weight-training sessions three times a week for three months. At the end of the study, the men’s strength had increased dramatically. Their quadriceps (four different muscle groups in front of the thigh) had more than doubled in strength, and their hamstrings more than tripled.

Don’t be concerned about bulking up: ACSM’s guidelines for healthy strength conditioning include one set of 8-10 exercises (for each major muscle group), 8-12 repetitions for each exercise, at least twice a week. This rebuilds muscle fiber, increases strength and improves the shape and tone of the muscles, without bulking up.

The weight must be heavy enough to fatigue the muscle after 8 to12 repetitions. If it doesn’t, it’s too light. And if you can’t maintain good form for at least eight repetitions, the weight is too heavy.

If you’ve never lifted weights, make an appointment with a personal trainer or fitness professional at a local YMCA or fitness center. It’s vital to learn proper form to prevent injury and get the most benefit from the exercise.

If you have health concerns, get approval from your doctor before beginning an exercise program.