Strength Training Rounds Out Basic Walking Programs

Maureen Deutermann Features

The is the eighth in a series of articles from HNP’s Wellness Committee. Information about the committee or health concerns is available through chair J. Patrick Kelly, OFM, at 201-280-7644 and member Sr. Vicki Masterpaul at 716-373-0200, ext. 3304.

Walk, walk, walk. You have heard it dozens of times from your physician, weight-loss counselor or a fitness fanatic friend. Ask anyone for a suggestion to begin an exercise program and I’ll bet you the advice will be to walk. Good advice.

The benefits of aerobic exercise, which includes walking, are well known.  Aerobic exercise is great for the heart and lungs, increasing HDL good cholesterol and generally increasing cardiovascular fitness.

If walking is your only exercise, you are missing health benefits realized through strength training. Strength training benefits the young and old alike. Even those with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, arthritis and osteoporosis have seen a decrease in the symptoms of these diseases with regular strength training.

Strength Training Has Many Benefits

Arthritis relief, improvement in balance which reduces falls, an increase in bone density, weight maintenance, improved glucose control in diabetics, improved sleep and injury prevention are all benefits of strength training.  It also increases well being and helps people age with grace and vibrance.

Some folks may have an image of body builders glistening with sweat, struggling to heave an ungodly amount of weight over their heads. Or have visions of torture machines at the gym, and sadistic personal trainers urging them to increase levels of pain. This is not necessary. Strength training is much easier than that.

Strength training can be done at home with simple equipment such as light- weight dumbbells or resistance bands. Bands are inexpensive, elastic-like cords in various tensions that give weight-like resistance when pulled.  Even a couple of cans of peas from the pantry can be used as hand weights. Some exercises that count as strength training require no equipment at all, like push-ups, crunches and squats.

Think you are too old or out of shape to begin a program of strength training? On the contrary, moving into older age is another great reason to begin. At Tufts University, older men and women with moderate to severe osteoarthritis recently participated in a 16-week strength-training program.  Participants enjoyed a 43 percent decrease in pain, increased muscle strength and general improvement in the signs and symptoms of this chronic disease. In a study of 80-year-old women in New Zealand, participating in a strength training and balance program resulted in a 40 percent reduction in falls.

Twenty Minutes, Twice a Week
You don’t need to spend hours at strength training to reap its rewards. Two or three 20-minute sessions a week is all that is needed. Always include a five-minute warm-up, consisting of some mild aerobic exercise, such as walking. This increases blood flow to muscles and will prepare your body for exercise.

Warming up is very important to prevent injury and to glean the most benefit from your strength-training routine. Start your program out slowly, adding more exercises and weight as you become more fit. Complete your routine with simple stretches. Don’t omit this last step, as stretching the muscles you’ve just worked helps to increase flexibility, which is important to avoid muscle stiffness, pain and injuries. Make sure to let muscle groups rest for a day in between sessions. As with all exercise routines, consult your primary health care provider before beginning strength training.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has an excellent program for older adults interested in beginning a strength training program, complete with motivational tips and different stages of exercises. You can download the program.

Maureen Deutermann, MS, RN, is a director of community education at Potomac Hospital in Woodbridge, Va.  She is a  long-time parishioner of the Province’s St. Francis of Assisi Church in Triangle, Va.