Weight-Bearing Exercise is Important – Especially as We Age

Although you’ve probably heard it before – and we have written about it in the past – it is worth mentioning again just how important weight-bearing exercise, also known as strength training or resistance exercise, is to a well-rounded workout.

It is vital to mix this type of exercise in with your regular cardio routine, as it has an important function in keeping us healthy, especially as we age.

Weight-bearing exercise is any type of exercise that utilizes the resistance of muscular contractions, making your muscles work to overcome a resistant force. While it is most commonly associated with weight lifting, there are many ways to get this kind of exercise, and some activites double as cardiovascular and weight-bearing.

The Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) states:

“The best exercise for your bones is the weight-bearing kind, which forces you to work against gravity. Some examples of weight-bearing exercises include weight training, walking, hiking, jogging, climbing stairs, tennis, and dancing.

Examples of exercises that are not weight-bearing include swimming and bicycling. Although these activities help build and maintain strong muscles and have excellent cardiovascular benefits, they are not the best way to exercise your bones.”

Exercises using your own body weight, including crunches, push-ups, pull-ups and squats, are also included in this category. Another idea is using resistance tubes; bands which resist as they are stretched and can be used with many different muscle groups.

The benefits of weight-bearing exercise for your bones are vast. Bone density naturally diminishes as we age, and strength training both encourages the formation of new bone cells, and strengthens the bones overall.

Loss of bone density over the long-term is the recipe for osteoporosis, so keeping your bones strong as you age is essential. As post-menopausal women are at the highest risk for osteoporosis, this type of exercise is essential in the prevention of this disorder.

Weight-bearing exercise is also important to preserve muscle mass and muscle strength, which also tend to deteriorate as we age if not properly exercised. If muscle mass is allowed to diminish, body fat percentage naturally increases.

Because of this, strength training is essential to maintaining a trim figure as we age, as increasing muscle mass means less body fat, and also a faster metabolism.

Other benefits of resistance training include promoting optimal joint function, boosting cardiovascular and lung health, raising your body’s levels of HDL “good” cholesterol, and helping to prevent the onset of diabetes. Additionally, it has been linked to improved memory and cognitive function in older women.

A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology tested the effects of different types of exercise programs on 57 adult volunteers between the ages of 35 and 57, who were either obese or overweight, and had not done any sort of resistance training in the past ten years.

They were divided into three groups. One group remained sedentary, the second underwent intense resistance training, and the third was placed on a varied program which included resistance training, cardiovascular exercise and stretching.

After 16 weeks, the researchers found that the third group displayed the greatest reduction in body weight, belly fat and blood sugar levels, as well as the highest increase in lean body mass percentage.

This study underscores the notion that the key to a healthy exercise program is not focusing on just one type, but incorporating different kinds, including cardio, resistance training and flexibility into a well-rounded regimen.

Study leader Paul Arciero, an exercise scientist at Skidmore College, states: “It’s very difficult to just lift weights, or only do the treadmill or the elliptical machine and be healthy. Your exercise regimen needs to encompass as much of what makes you a fully integrated living person as possible.”

To get started weaving weight-bearing exercise into your routine, decide which activity or activities you would most enjoy. According to Dr. Edward R. Laskowski, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist and the the co-director of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center, you should choose a level of resistance which tires your muscle after approximately 12 repetitions; less resistance than this is not effective enough, and anything more resistant is too much.

Recovery time is also a key to healthy strength training. Resting each muscle group for a full day after working it out ensures that your cells have time to recover and strengthen. It is also important to avoiding injury.

If you work your leg muscles one day, do your arms the next, and so on. Start slow and go at your own pace – if you are experiencing pain above mild soreness, or your joints become swollen you are doing too much too fast.

Never ignore the signals your body is sending you. If you find yourself experiencing chest pain, stop what you are doing and consult a physician.

The Surgeon General recommends about 30 minutes of exercise per day on most days for healthy individuals. Switch this up between cardio, strength training and stretching. As some activities, such as hiking, count for both cardio and strength, they can be a great (not to mention fun) way to clock your workout time.

Nordic walking - active people working out outdoorIf you have health issues, including obesity, hypertension or cardiovascular issues, talk to a health professional to determine how much (and what types) of exercise are best for you. Individuals over age 40 should also consult a health professional before getting started to make sure you are not over – or under – doing it, and for recommendations as to how to tailor your workout to the specific needs of your individual health.

It may be over-stated, but with a diverse exercise routine and a diet of whole, natural foods, you really can give yourself the best possible chance at optimal health throughout your life, including increasing your lifespan!

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