The benefits of strength training

Research from many countries shows that regular weight training can help fend off the major heart attackers. This benefit comes from regular weight training's improving triglyceride counts, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, glucose metabolism and reducing body fat. Here's a summary of what else is known about the benefits of strength training.

The benefits of strength training

Stopping metabolism meltdown

Unless you take steps to boost your metabolism — your body's calorie-burning ability — you can lose a third to half of your lean body mass and replace it with twice as much body fat by the time you're 65.

Loss of metabolism starts around your 35th birthday, when levels of human growth hormone begin to fall. At the same time, family and work demands may increase, leaving you with less time for physical fun than in the past. This combination means you can lose about 225 grams (eight ounces) of muscle a year.

Strength training is the best long-term method for increasing resting energy expenditure — that is the number of calories you burn simply by existing. If you work every major muscle group twice a week, you can replace five to ten years' worth of lost muscle in just a few months.

Improving cardiovascular fitness

When your muscles get stronger, they can perform better with less oxygen. That means your heart doesn't have to work so hard when you're doing everyday activities such as running up a flight of stairs or chasing tennis balls on the court.

When a group of 46 adults lifted weights three times a week for six months, they not only got a lot stronger, they also improved their fitness by about 25 percent.

Fighting free radicals

Lifting weights enhances your body's defence system against free radicals — natural by-products of metabolism that have been linked to illnesses such as heart disease.

In a study of free radical damage, researchers asked 62 men and women to lift weights three times a week for six months. At the end of the study, the weightlifters showed no evidence of damage from these harmful elements, compared with a 13 percent increase in dangerous free radical activity among a similar group of adults who didn't lift weights.

Building heart power

Strength training conditions your heart to work better when you have to lift and carry heavy objects, so your blood pressure and heart rate are lower during everyday chores.

Strong muscles also help to share the load, so there's less demand on your heart when you carry groceries or mow the lawn.

If you find strength training a strain, try lighter weights and consult your doctor if you experience pain or other symptoms.

Finding an alternative

Of course there are routes to the benefits of strength training aside from simply lifting weights.

"Weightlifting is not the only way to gain muscle strength," says sports physiotherapist Claire Small. "Exercises like Pilates also work the major muscle groups and the core." (The "core" refers to the muscle groups in the abdomen, lower back and hips).

Pilates classes are held in most cities and large towns, and you can choose a class that suits your needs. Or, if you prefer, you can tackle Pilates at home with a DVD or video exercise.

Before starting any program of new exercise, it is wise to consult your doctor.

Keep all this in mind and you'll be ready to reap the benefits of strength training.

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