Wednesday, 6 January 2016 4:00:00 PM Australia/Melbourne

Resistance training or ‘strength training’ is the term used to describe the exercise of your muscles using an opposing force, such as working with resistance bands or lifting weights. Resistance training is based on the principle that your muscles will work to overcome a resistance force when required to do so, and that when repeatedly worked other time, your muscles will become stronger.

Resistance or strength training has benefits no matter your age, but is particularly important for older people. As we age, we lose muscle mass and bone density, resulting in the much of the loss of function we associate with getting older. But you are never too old to gain muscle strength, and it doesn’t require hours of effort sweating it out at the gym.

There is a range of easy to use, cost effective products available for use at home, in the garden or local park, or anywhere you might travel. Resistance products, such as those made by well know brand Thera-Band, are latex bands or tubes used for physical therapy and light strength training exercises – or anyone looking for a low-impact strength training workout in the comfort of their home.

While we recommend consulting a physical therapist or healthcare professional to find the products and exercises that are right for you, once you have mastered a simple resistance training program, the heath benefits are significant and the long term effects are … well, long term!

Top 10 Health Benefits

Boost your lifting power
All forms of resistance training support an increase in your overall muscle mass, which in turn makes lifting anything easier. So whether it’s carrying the shopping or walking up the stairs, you’ll find activity just that bit easier. Regular strength training also helps to improve flexibility, balance and coordination – which all lead to a significant reduction in the risk of having a fall, a key concern for everyone as they age.

Burn more calories
While the act of resistance training itself will burn calories, the benefits of such training continue on and beyond the training itself. This is because it takes more energy (calories) for your body to use and maintain muscle cells than it does fat cells. So by increasing your muscle mass, you are boosting your metabolism and increasing your calorie burning efficiency for any day to day activity.

Beat the blues
The idea that exercise can improve symptoms of depression and anxiety is not a new one – Hippocrates was the first Western physician to prescribe this treatment over 2,500 years ago, and doctors have been recommending it ever since. All forms of exercise are proven to release “feel good” endorphins into your system – but strength training has been specifically shown to decrease tension and anxiety, key factors that lead to stress.

Help your heart
Studies show that strength training is good for the heart – and can help prevent heart disease, or reduce risks for those already suffering. Research conducted by the College of Health Sciences’ Department of Health, Leisure and Exercise Science at Appalachian State University USA, has shown that resistance training can lower blood pressure by as much as 20%. Researchers say that the healthy heart benefits come from the increased blood flow to the muscles, heart and body. 

Build stronger bones
Numerous studies show that strength training increases bone mass, especially spinal bone mass, thereby decreasing the risk of osteoporosis. Postmenopausal women are particularly at risk because their body has stopped producing oestrogen, as are men with low testosterone levels. While many people take calcium supplements to combat bone fragility, it appears that on their own these are not enough. Not only does your body need magnesium and other nutrients to assimilate calcium into your bones, it also needs strength training to retain calcium. With regular strength training or other forms of weight-bearing exercise (like walking) you can improve the health and strength of your bones by improving or maintaining your bone density.

Reduce risk of diabetes
Combined with the benefits of heart health and weight loss, regular resistance training (at a medium or moderate intensity) also greatly improves diabetes management. Strength training helps the body respond better to insulin and improves the way the body uses blood sugar. This occurs because of an increase in lean muscle mass, which boosts your metabolic rate causing you to burn calories at a faster rate, while the ability of your muscles to store glucose increases with your strength, making your body better able to regulate its blood sugar levels. Your body fat-to-muscle ratio also decreases, reducing the amount of insulin you need in your body to help store energy in fat cells.

Lose weight, gain shape
Strength training burns calories, boosts metabolism and helps you lose more body fat than people who do not include this form of exercise. A study from Penn State University, USA found that on average, people who weight train lose 2.5 kilos more fat than those who don’t. When dieting alone, the body uses fat for energy but also breaks down muscles for extra fuel. Combine diet with a controlled strength training program and you are helping to build and maintain muscle mass while losing weight.

Improve your posture
Resistance training helps to improve flexibility, coordination and muscle strength – all factors that enable you to stand upright and maintain a healthy posture. While stretching also helps to loosen stiff joints and muscles, poor posture is often the result of muscular deficiencies in certain parts of your body. So strengthening those muscles will simultaneously help to improve your posture and general demeanour.

Enhance your focus
Some research suggests that regular strength training helps improve attention for older adults. According to an article in the Archives of Internal Medicine, older women who did an hour or two of strength training each week improved their cognitive function, and better planned and executed a variety tasks.

Sleep more soundly
While exercising too close to bedtime can sometimes make it challenging to fall asleep, strength training exercised performed at least two hours before bedtime has been shown to help prevent sleep apnea and help with insomnia. The results of a survey by the Better Sleep Council in the USA, indicated that 60% of people who do regular strength training average more than seven hours of sleep each night.

Getting started

Before starting any new exercise program, talk with your doctor or healthcare professional to determine what exercises are right for you. As performing strength training exercise safely and correctly is paramount to success, it can be advantageous to work with a physical therapist or registered exercise professional to develop a safe and effective program that’s right for you, including correct warm up and cool down techniques. It is always important to pay attention to safety and good form to reduce the risk of injury.

The Australian physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines recommend that you do things to strengthen your muscles at least two days a week. These activities should work all the major muscle groups of your body (legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders, and arms).

To start, a typical beginner’s strength training program involves:

  • 8 to 10 exercises that work the major muscle groups of the body and are performed two to three times every week
  • beginning with one set of each exercise, comprising as few as 8 repetitions (reps), no more than twice a week

To give your muscles time to recover, rest one full day between exercising each specific muscle group.

Your aim is to gradually increase to 2 to 3 sets for each exercise – comprising 8 to 12 reps, every second or third day. Once you can comfortably do 12 reps of an exercise, you should look at progressing further.

Also be careful to listen to your body. Although mild muscle soreness is normal, sharp pain and sore or swollen joints are signs that you have overdone it.

Experts say that when done correctly, results from this sort of resistance training happen quickly. You can expect to notice improvements in your strength and stamina within just a couple of weeks, regardless of your starting fitness level.

 

A well-rounded fitness program should include strength training (to improve bone, joint function, bone density, muscle, tendon and ligament strength) combined with aerobic exercise (to improve heart and lung fitness) and balance exercises.

Please consult your doctor or healthcare professional before undertaking any new form of exercise. Strength training exercises require proper posture, correct warm up and cool down techniques, as well as correct training on each individual exercise. As such, we recommend that you work with a physical therapist or registered exercise professional to ensure you are performing all exercises correctly and safely, without risk of injury.