Many people seek to build strength and muscle in hopes of improving their looks or performance in sports. Those are worthy goals, but outcomes even more important for your overall health and wellbeing are these:
- Prevention of obesity
- Prevention of diabetes
- Prevention of osteoporosis
- Prevention of injuries
- Prevention of age-related disabilities and limitations in daily activities
- Reduced risk of dying from cancer or heart failure
- Abating of symptoms (pain, fatigue, muscle weakness) of some diseases
Beginning about age 40, you gradually lose muscle mass and strength. In addition, muscle function becomes less efficient as you age, which means older muscles generate less force than younger muscles. But if you lift weights, you’ll not only maintain your muscle mass, you can increase it, and you can reverse some of the age-related loss of muscle efficiency. Research shows this to be the case even for those beyond their 80s.
Strength workouts can include machines, free weights, resistance bands or bodyweight exercises like squats and planks. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults participate in muscle-strengthening exercise involving all major muscles at least twice weekly.
Don’t be afraid of weights! For women, weight training does not lead to bulky muscles. They don’t have the testosterone levels that men do. Weight training will tone and sculpt only.
DEATH BY SITTING
On average, adults in high- and middle-income countries around the world spend nearly 10 of their waking hours a day on sedentary activities. The average American office worker can sit for 13 to 15 hours a day. People in agrarian villages sit for about three hours a day.
Overwhelming evidence shows that prolonged sitting is devastating to your health and a risk factor for premature death, even if you exercise regularly and are very fit. Hours of inactivity causes molecular changes at the cellular level that contribute to at least 24 different chronic diseases that include obesity, heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, hypertension, and cancer.
Dr. James Levine, author of Get Up!: Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It, is co-director of the Obesity Initiative for Mayo Clinic/Arizona State University, and he’s also the inventor of the treadmill desk. He recommends sitting no more than 50 minutes out of every hour, and the less, the better. According to Dr. Levine, as you stand up, a series of molecular effects are activated simply by weight-bearing; by carrying your bodyweight upon your legs. The ways your body handles blood sugar, triglycerides and cholesterol are beneficially impacted, for example, as are the mechanisms that push fuels into your cells.
Dr. Joan Vernikos, the author of Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, is a retired NASA scientist who monitored the recovery of the astronauts from the effects of space travel. She found that prolonged sitting produces the same body decline astronauts suffer in a weightless environment. She says that merely standing up over 30 times a day is a powerful antidote for long periods of sitting and is more effective than walking. “It’s not how many hours of sitting is bad for you,” she says. “It’s how often you interrupt that sitting that is good for you.”
Both experts agree that while regular, traditional exercise programs are to be encouraged, it is ordinary, non-exercise movement spread throughout the day that offsets prolonged sitting. So stand up, and stand often.