“It becomes especially critical as we age, because our bodies lose muscle mass decade by decade,” says Dr. Susan Joy, a Cleveland Clinic physician who practices sports medicine at the health system’s Independence office. “This process affects our resting metabolic rate as well as our resistance to certain diseases. Besides, strong muscles help prevent falls that can cause fractures in elderly people.”
Strength training does not necessarily translate into hoisting hundreds of pounds and striking rippled poses, she says, a misconception that deters many people who would benefit from lifting weights from ever giving it a chance.
“You don’t have to enroll at the meathead gym and pump iron until your veins bulge,” Joy says. “That’s not what it’s about. Strength-training exercises improve your everyday functional, practical stamina. And besides, a toned body just looks healthy.”
Of course, strength training is most effective for overall fitness and health when it’s paired with aerobic exercise (see page 184) and healthy eating (see page 182). Joy says the latest studies show that people who decrease their body fat while maintaining normal weight and lean muscle mass have significantly reduced rates of diabetes and some cancers, including cancers of the breast and colon. Strong muscles also help protect bones.
“If you have strong muscles around your joints, you’ll help improve symptoms of arthritis and other joint ailments,” Joy says. “You really do your body a great service all around by training for strength.”
How They Did It
Like a lot of us, Steve Niarhos’ desk job keeps him sedentary much of the workday. To help maintain good health, the department coordinator in preventitative medicine at the Cleveland Clinic engages in strength and aerobic training four times a week, working out for 60 to 75 minutes each session.
“Back in my 20s when I started working out,” he says, “I wanted to gain muscle mass. Now, 20 years later, I’ve noticed that it’s become harder to build muscle as my metabolism is slowing down. But I’ve also noticed that because I’m pretty toned, I’m still able to do a lot.”
Niarhos, like most people, admits he’d ideally like to lose a few extra pounds, but credits his workout regimen to helping him maintain good health. Along with strength-training exercises, he also includes about 30 minutes on the elliptical machine or engages in other aerobic exercise.
“I know it’s been scientifically proven that more muscle mass burns fat, as opposed to just doing aerobic activity,” he says. “So, I make sure I devote time to free weights and other resistance machines to help me maintain or even build muscle.”
Niarhos adds that just because people spend time at the gym, they still have to eat properly to achieve the best results. “This doesn’t work by itself,” he says. “I see guys spend two hours lifting weights and working out, and then go out and drink six beers and eat a huge burger with greasy fries. And they wonder why they don’t feel well. It takes common sense and balance. Otherwise, you’re being counterproductive.”
How To: Train for Strength
To reap the benefits of strength training, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends the following:
• People under age 65: Do eight to 12 strength-training exercises, eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise twice a week.
• People age 65 or older, or people ages 50 to 64 who suffer from arthritis: Do eight to 102 strength-training exercises, 10 to 15 repetitions of each exercise twice or three times a week. Those at risk of falling should perform balance exercises. Any exercise plan should be created with the aid of a physician.
• Muscle Groups: Exercises should target chest, back, shoulders, upper legs, lower legs and arms, using free weights, Nautilus-style machine or weight-bearing activities such as yoga.
Source: American College of Sports Medicine