Hello and welcome to our summer edition. I hope everyone has had a lovely festive time and enjoying the summer and holidays if you are having these. Summer is a great time for getting fit and healthy and it inspires many people to tone and strengthen up. This leads us to the topic of this newsletter and that is strength training. That is, strength training for young and old. Fortunately for us weight training is no longer seen as the domain of the youth. Dr Miriam Nelson wrote a great book called ‘Strong women stay young’. This revolutionised our thinking on weight training and the importance of it for all age groups. Thank goodness!! I find some of my older patients still thinking that lifting weights is for younger people and that it can be detrimental to their bodies and as a result don’t lift weights. If they do lift weights they lift tiny, teeny titchy weights which gets an eye float from me. (You know who you are!!).
So in this newsletter we will look at what strength training involves and some ideas.
The benefits of strength training are many. They include: stopping or slowing down bone loss. Post menopausal women increase the likelihood of bone loss, some studies show when we stress our bones, we encourage the bone to increase its density. One way of stressing bone is with strength training.
With the improvement of strength, often comes the improvement of balance. It is thought when our leg muscles are stronger there is a concurrent improvement with our balance.
Strength training has also been shown to increase our energy levels. This one is often difficult to convince non-exercises about. A common reason for not exercising I hear is that people are too tired. Once you begin to exercise you actually feel less tired as your body copes better to everyday life.
Strength training often leads to losing weight and losing centimeters. Losing weight means less load for your body to carry therefore less stress on your joints. It also means less weight to carry around and therefore less tiredness (see previous comment).
Strength training has also been found to improve flexibility. People often think strength training tightens muscles up. Having more strength often means you can move your limbs more therefore increasing the range of movement in the joints.
And strength training makes you feel good!
Many people I speak to do not particularly like the idea of attending a gym. I feel that gyms have changed a lot and they are much more diverse in terms of clientele. Many have programs geared to seniors, strength training, flexibility and cardio. If you would prefer to exercise at home, this is easily done with just a few pieces of equipment. A few dumbbells that can be purchased at sports stores is a good start. It is a good idea to get a few pairs in different weights.
Resistive band is versatile. It comes in different resistance, it is light and portable and easy to use. This is an option worth considering. A mat to use for exercise is often helpful especially if you need to kneel. Supportive sports shoes are a must as these will support your feet and therefore your knees, hips and back.
I don’t need to do any strength training because I walk everyday.
Walking, if fast enough, is a cardiovascular exercise. That is, it primarily targets your heart and lungs. It is necessary and a great way to improve/maintain your fitness. It may strengthen some muscles, such as hamstrings (behind the thigh) and calves but not many else. You will find if you include a strength based program as part of your regular routine your walking will improve, that is probably walk faster and find hills easier.
I will hurt myself lifting weights.
This is a very common remark I hear. If done properly, starting off slow and light and slowly increasing your weights this is not the case. I often remark that your more likely to hurt yourself not lifting weights rather than lifting weights.
Lifting weights will make me look muscly.
This is a concern of my younger female patients. To look really muscly the programs needed include lifting very very heavy weights and spending many hours doing it. The strength training I’m talking about involves lighter weights and improving everyday muscle strength.
I don’t like going to a gym.
You do not need to join a gym to partake in a strength training program. Using dumbbells at home or resistive bands are a great way to work on your strength. Both items are readily available in sports stores (or here for resistive band).
Weights I should be lifting
My usual response to this is “heavier than that!”. Many of my patients think if they lift heavy weights, they will hurt themselves. If you don’t lift heavy enough weights, then if you are expecting to get stronger and feel a difference it’s never going to happen (sorry!). Muscles will only respond to stress we place on them. So, if you’re lifting weights easily without much effort your muscles will not change – they will not get stronger. So, for all my patients out there (you know who you are!!) lifting a half kilo weight with your leg will not achieve anything, that is, in terms of increasing the strength of your leg muscles.
The exercises here are a few examples of strengthening exercises that you could easily do at home. The weight you use should challenge your muscles. If you do 3 lots of 10 repetitions the last lot of 10 should be difficult and you need to feel your muscles struggling to complete the last few. We often talk about listening to your body. This is true but we also need to differentiate between normal sensations of muscle tiredness and pain, pain. Feeling a little discomfort is OK. Avoiding all pain has made a lot of people scared about what is ok. Sharp pain that limits movement probably not ok. Dull ache, stress pain is ok. You may even feel pain afterwards (up to 2 days) this is all good. Means you’ve been working the muscles hard. In return they will strengthen and eventually the current weights will become too easy and you will need to increase the weights. And so on and so on. It is thought that a significant improvement in strength takes between 12-16 weeks.