From carrying heavy shopping bags, to lifting a fidgety toddler; we all need strength and rely on it to get things done. It’s frustrating if you can’t move that chair in your front room yourself. You may have heard about the importance of strength training; keeping those muscles working is part of keeping healthy, but what is it?
You may conjure up images of weightlifting or people grunting over a barbell in a sweaty gym, but strength training isn’t all about having big biceps. Fitness should be functional as we need it throughout our lives – it’s about moving better and more confidently, whether that’s getting in and out of a chair or up off the floor. Our strength naturally declines as we age, so it really is a case of use it or lose it.
Strength training includes exercises like press ups and squats where we use our own body weight. These exercises can be hard and are often humbling when you first begin, but don’t be put off. They needn’t be scary and everyone starts somewhere; press ups can be begun standing, pushing away from a wall and a basic chair squat is sitting down and standing up over a chair, but not letting your backside touch it, to build leg strength and control. These can, and should, be done at home. Building a few into our daily routine will serve us well.
Strength training is also our best friend if our goal is weight loss. The phrase ‘losing weight’ is a bit misleading as when our weight drops we naturally lose both body fat and muscle mass. We may want to lose fat, but just dieting without exercise, it’s muscle mass that’s lost alongside body fat. As strength naturally declines as we age, we can ill afford this. A gentle strength programme perfectly complements a weight loss diet and is a good health investment, whatever our age and will also improve our tone and body composition.
A bonus side effect of strength training includes bone health. We used to think of bones as just a skeletal structure to hang our flesh and muscles off. These days we know it’s a living organism, like coral and we can improve density with healthy habits and exercise.
Sometimes people are a little nervous of starting strength training in a gym environment. The very basics will teach you how to lift something safely and to look after your back. Women sometimes express concern that they may become ‘bulky’. Rest assured, there is a huge difference between strength training for your health and fitness and becoming a body builder. Body builders train for years and their results aren’t accidental. I understand concerns about this, but it’s really a bit like saying ‘I’m not going to learn to drive as I might accidentally end up racing Formula 1’. We can all benefit from some form of strength training so don’t let preconceptions like this put you off looking after yourself.
An edited version of this appeared in the New Stour and Avon Magazine, September 2021