Remember those boxes of books you carried up the stairs so easily a few years ago? Or the jammed grocery bags you used to grab from your car's trunk two at a time? Maybe these days you're packing less into storage cartons and shopping sacks, to make them lighter to lift, or enlisting a teenager's help in hauling them. As we get older, many of us find ourselves becoming less strong than we once were.
It doesn't have to be so. Your healthy future depends upon keeping your muscles strong. Losing strength may result in serious health problems: fractures, imbalance, loss of mobility and inactivity—leading to diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Yet those risks can be turned around, and even prevented, with quick and simple strength training exercises.
Just a few months of strength (also called resistance) training—at home, in a gym or fitness center—can lower your cholesterol, reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, help you avoid osteoporosis, decrease arthritic symptoms and build muscle so you remain active and independent for years to come.
Strength training also helps your heart health, says Kevin R. Vincent, M.D., Ph.D., of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at The University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Vincent co-authored research showing that resistance exercise aided cardiovascular function by lowering levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that can cause harmful clots, increasing anti-oxidant defenses, and decreasing blood pressure. Exercising with resistance keeps your blood pressure response lower when you hurry to catch a bus, climb stairs, or lift a box. "That's protective," he adds, "so you run a smaller risk of having a heart attack or a stroke." Get more tips for lowering your blood pressure.
Even if you've never lifted a weight before, you can begin an easy strength training program. "It's never too late to start," Vincent says. "Start with light weights and progress slowly.