Would you believe me if I told you that strength training is the most important type of exercise you can do for better health? This may be hard to believe because most of the general population believes that you need to jog, run or do some sort of cardio to be lean, fit and healthy.
I’m a former high school and collegiate track and cross-country runner, so I love running as much as the next guy. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve seen firsthand the importance of being strong. If you are a runner or cardio junky, I’m not telling you to stop those activities. You just need to incorporate strength into your routine so you are balanced.
To build a healthier body, you need a strong foundation that can withstand the aging process. Let’s be honest here: The end of life isn’t pretty for most of us. Health-care costs can triple or quadruple, pill boxes with the days of the week on them become our best friends, walkers are a necessity, and often we need help with simple tasks as we become ill or face a disease. Sounds like a real hoot.
Most of us like to live life on our own terms and if you want to continue doing so, I suggest that you pick up some weights. I’m in no way saying strength training can cure all. But just take a second and picture yourself as an 80-year-old. It sure would be nice to be able to carry your groceries, play with the grandkids, stand up straight and get out of a chair without needing to use the armrest to stand up. These are just the simple tasks in life; now imagine that you cannot do these simple movements because you aren’t strong enough. That image doesn’t make you feel good, does it? Struggling with these everyday tasks in old age doesn’t have to be a reality.
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As we age, there are a number of physiological functions that decline; this increases your risk of developing osteoporosis, arthritis, type 2 diabetes and sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass). Strength training 2–3 days a week can help prepare you to fight these effects of aging.
It’s never too late to create new habits. Strength training for many people isn’t as fun as walking, spin class, yoga or playing sports. But it’s hard to deny the short- and long-term benefits of hitting the weights, including:
- Increased bone density
- Stronger ligaments and tendons
But the goodness doesn’t stop there. Muscle allows us to continue to be active, functional and healthy. It’s critical for activity, and movement is critical to our happiness.
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The best way to build strength is by doing compound exercises, which recruit multiple joints through a full range of motion and engage the most muscle mass. Squats, shoulder presses and deadlifts are my three favorite compound exercises. These are functional moves that are easy to learn and can be done with dumbbells or barbells. You are in no way limited to just these three exercises or to dumbbells and barbells; these are just my preferred methods to build strength. The TRX suspension system, kettlebells and body-weight exercises like chin-ups and push-ups are other effective ways to train.
If I still haven’t convinced you that you need to strength train, take a trip to the local nursing home. Sit and watch the people there move, and you’ll see firsthand what the majority of these folks lack: strength. Train now for a healthier, more active future.