Want to Keep Your Muscles? Work ’em!

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This article was originally written for and posted in my column, The Fitness Corner, in The Macon Telegraph.

If I were to ask you to compare cardiovascular exercise to strength training, and to rate them in order of importance, which would you say comes first?

If you said cardiovascular exercise, I would say that you’re probably right.

Cardiovascular exercise, also referred to as ‘aerobic exercise’ and ‘cardio’, is essentially any exercise that is sustained for a period of time – usually over a minute or two – that serves the purpose of strengthening your heart and lungs.  This includes exercise such as walking, running, cycling and swimming.  Strength training can also strengthen your heart and lungs, but the intensity of it means that it isn’t sustainable for long enough periods of time to get the heart/lung benefit that one might get from traditional cardiovascular exercise.

Please Don’t Forget Strength Training

Now, many of us focus on cardio while doing little to no strength training.  We do lots of walking or running, and then we occasionally pick up a light dumbbell to essentially say that we lifted weights.  This is a problem.  Why, you ask?

  • We lose muscle as we age. According to Robert Wolfe, a muscle metabolism researcher at the University of Arkansas, we start losing muscle at an accelerated rate at about 40 years old, and it really picks up at about 50
  • Losing muscle makes it more difficult to prevent unwanted fat gain, since our metabolism is highly dependent on the amount of muscle we have
  • This kind of muscle loss is what leads to the debilitating falls that the elderly experience, which often result in either incapacitation or death

So don’t ignore the weights.  And if you are under 40, don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can wait until that age to begin a strength training program.  The reason is because even if you are not yet experiencing significant age-related muscle loss, you still lose muscle as a result of inactivity.  As the saying goes, you must “use it or lose it.”

A good strength training program does not have to be complicated.  Train your entire body by using exercises such as push-ups, dumbbell presses, dumbbell rows and chin-ups for the upper body, squats and lunges for the lower body, and planks for the abdominal region.

With all of this said, one thing I want you to understand before I close this article is that you do not have to lift weights to build and/or maintain your muscle mass.  In our society, we are used to compartmentalizing every aspect of our lives, which means that we treat exercise as something that we need a gym for, rather than something that we can get from regular life activities.  Don’t get me wrong.  As a personal trainer, I love gym-type exercise, but it’s a myth that you need a gym workout to get in shape.

In a nutshell, if you make a practice of not outsourcing the active aspects of your regular life, you can maintain your muscle mass.  Get a push mower and push-mow your lawn.  Work your garden with a handheld tiller.  Squat down and pick weeds.  And for those looking for a really good workout, try using a manual edger instead of a gas powered one.  I promise you that counts for strength training.

Whether you do your strength training in a gym or the lawn, or both, it all helps you maintain healthy muscle mass that in turn preserves your health.  Remember that.

And don’t hesitate to e-mail me your comments or questions!

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