When those of us over 40 (and some of us over 30) think of “staying in shape”, thoughts commonly turn to cardiovascular training (cardio). Activities such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling and using indoor cardio equipment all come to mind when thinking of fitness, and rightly so. These forms of exercise are important for maintaining and improving lung capacity, cardiac health, weight control, and overall endurance. Because the benefits of cardio are so widely recognized, weight training is treated as an afterthought by most people. It seems that only the most dedicated fitness enthusiasts regularly incorporate resistance/weight training into their routine. This is a mistake. When it comes to preservation of muscle mass as we age, weight training, along with consumption of adequate protein in the diet is more important than cardio activities.
Slow the Aging Process
Most people are aware that we lose muscle mass as we age. The term “sarcopenia” refers to the lack of muscle in older people. Sarcopenia is generally accompanied by a loss of strength in the individual, causing a loss of independence, increased functional disability, and decreased life expectancy. When we think in these terms, we can come to appreciate the importance of strength training for overall health as we age.
How to Strength Train
For individuals who are new to strength training, body weight exercises are a good, safe way to get started. I generally advocate the “K.I.S.S.” (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle for beginners. One should focus on basic movements, that work large muscle groups – pushups, pull ups (assisted if necessary), and squats (without weights). A session or two with a qualified athletic trainer should be all that is needed for even a total newbie to get started. As one progresses physically, the intensity of the workouts should be slowly increased, to avoid stagnation, boredom, or a physical plateau. Intensity can be increased by either increasing the number of repetitions done per session, decreasing the resting time between sets, or adding weights to the exercises. Again, the guidance of a qualified trainer is invaluable if one is unsure about how to move forward with a program.
As in most things, balance is the key for optimum health and fitness as we age. There are no shortcuts, and there is no ‘best’ exercise program out there. Whatever one chooses, he/she must strike a balance between cardiovascular and resistance training, to maintain or improve overall fitness. Stretching and nutrition are the other factors in this complex equation. Finally, a qualified trainer can help design an appropriate program, and modify it as the individual progresses.