We frequently write about the importance of exercise for the heart. But we mostly focus on aerobic exercises like walking, dancing and biking. It makes sense; activities that get your blood moving are essential to keep your heart strong and healthy. But, strength training is also necessary.
Many of us think of heavy weights when we hear “strength.” And for people who are older or don’t regularly exercise, that sort of workout may sound impossible. But there are many strength exercises that don’t have to have a perfect body to start helping yourself.
Resistance training, using rubber bands to stretch, can help you build muscle. The bands come in all different levels of stretchiness. You can work your way up slowly. You can buy them in stores like Walmart and Target and online, and they aren’t expensive.
Celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels praises resistance training because it “[incorporates] multiple muscle groups simultaneously, because it burns more calories and it forces the heart to drive blood to different muscle groups, which increases cardiovascular conditioning.”
Building lean muscle reduces high blood pressure. Resistance training also reduces the amount of fat on your heart. It might surprise you that aerobic exercise doesn’t do that.
Some forms of strength training may seem entirely beyond you. Pushups are hard! But, they can be modified. You can do them against a wall. You rest your hands on the wall and put your feet further back on the floor and push yourself upright. Small modifications like that can make an exercise more manageable if you have physical limitations. Even if you don’t “work up” to pushups on the floor, you can still reap the benefits and tone your muscles. The same is true for lunges. If you have knee problems, you can bend more at the waist to take the pressure off your knees. If you have balance issues, you can use a sturdy chair for stability.
It’s important to keep up with exercise as you age. You retire from a job, not health. “After age 50, you lose one to two percent of muscle strength per year,” said Suzanne Andrews, president of Healthwise Exercise. “After 60, you lose three percent a year, which comes out to about 4.5 pounds of muscle strength per year. Strength training helps you regain the muscle you lost and helps your cells remain younger since exercise slows cell aging. Exercise doesn’t just make you feel younger. It may actually turn off the aging process in your chromosomes.”
It’s essential to listen to your body and not overwork yourself. That doesn’t mean you should avoid exercise. You should speak to a doctor who knows your health history and fitness level. They can help find the right strength exercises for you.