Regular physical activity is important, especially as you get older. But if you’re just getting aerobic—heart and lung—exercise, you’re missing out on an important type of activity: strength training.
Strength training is exercise that works your muscles and improves balance. Strength exercises include lifting weights, using a resistance band or even working against your own body weight (as in doing pull-ups and sit-ups).
The benefits of strength training
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), strength training—sometimes called resistance training—can help manage and treat conditions such as:
- Cardiovascular disease.
- Fall risk.
- High blood pressure.
- Low-back pain.
- Mental health.
- Peripheral vascular disease.
For seniors, strength training also can help preserve muscle mass, strengthen bones and preserve independence.
You can perform strength exercises at home or at a gym. And you can use a wide range of equipment, including free weights, resistance bands, weight machines, and even bottled water or soup cans.
The ACSM, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and others offer the following tips for developing a safe, well-balanced strength training program:
- Vary your workouts. Work each muscle group—arms, legs, stomach, back and hips—twice a week. Don’t train the same muscle group two days in a row. For example, do upper-body workouts one day and lower-body workouts the next.
- Don’t leave any muscle groups behind. Your program should include exercises for all of the major muscle groups. Muscle imbalances are a major cause of injury.
- Choose the right pace. Strength training exercises are most effective when performed slowly. Move through each motion smoothly. Don’t jerk or swing weights.
- Don’t hold your breath during strength exercises. Breathe out as you lift or push, and breathe in as you relax.
- Know when to stop. Do 8 to 12 repetitions of each exercise, working your muscles until they are tired. If you can do more repetitions without tiring, consider increasing your weight slightly. Don’t go too fast—it takes time to get in shape.
- Warm up and cool down. Always perform both a warm-up period before and cool-down period after your workout. Five to 10 minutes should be adequate.
First, check with your doctor
Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program. Ask your doctor if you have any medical problems that may affect your ability to exercise. If you have any preexisting conditions, work with your doctor to develop a safe exercise program.