It's not just for beefcakes anymore.
Step into any fitness center, and you'll find men and women, young and old, pumping iron. It's not just so they can look better in a swimsuit, but also so they can fend off heart disease and osteoporosis, curb chronic pain and slow the weight gain and susceptibility to injury associated with aging.
"It keeps your skin taut. It keeps you vital and attractive. It stimulates your skeletal system, and it helps you prevent injuries," says Andy Pruitt, director of the Boulder (Colo.) Center for Sports Medicine. "And all that can be done in 20 minutes, three times a week."
"It used to be a male thing," Pruitt says. "You had to have big muscles, and it was a lot of work to load and unload the stacks. With the advent of strength-training machines, the injury rate went way down and the convenience went way up."
After the age of 30, the average person begins to lose about 1 percent of muscle mass annually, and after age 60, that decline speeds up. Along with that loss of muscle mass comes a variety of undesirable side effects, says Neil Henderson, coordinator of sports science for the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine.
With less muscle to fuel, our resting metabolic rate -- our rate of calorie burning -- slows down, and we begin to gain fat weight, even if our diet doesn't change. With less muscle load to support, our bones begin to lose density, leaving us more prone to osteoporosis and to injury.
When we do get injured, the fractures tend to be worse. Research shows strong muscles are also more efficient than weak ones at getting oxygen and nutrients from blood, so the heart doesn't have to work so hard to support them.
The good news, says Henderson, is that the process of muscle deterioration can be slowed by half with a good, not terribly time-consuming, strength-training regimen.
And, according to several recent studies, the ailments of aging can be warded off.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends beginners start with machines, which are regarded as safer to use and easier to learn, then progress to a program that also includes free weights, which allow for a more natural range of motion and strengthen core muscles used for balance and everyday movement.
|The American College of Sports Medicine recommends the following for novice to intermediate lifters:¢ Weight/reps: Use 60 to 70 percent of the maximum weight you can lift for eight to 12 reps.¢ Sets: Start with one and progress to two or three.¢ Variation: Include both multiple-joint exercises (bench press, squat) and single-joint exercises (let extension, arm and leg curls), free-weights and machines.¢ Sequence: Large muscle groups before small muscle groups; higher intensity exercises before lower intensity exercises; multiple-joint exercises before single-joint exercises.¢ Rest: Rest 2 to 3 minutes between multiple-joint exercises that involve heavy loads and 1 to 2 minutes between easier machine exercises.¢ Velocity: Slow and moderate speed recommended.¢ Frequency: Two to three days a week.|