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Why strength exercise is the best medicine
— Laura Furneaux | The Adaptable You
It’s a story I’ve heard too many times to count.
“Well, I guess I’m (insert age here) and I just can’t do (insert an activity you love) anymore.”
This is a conclusion we come to when we link an activity with physical difficulty or even pain. We start to believe the activity is to be avoided. We make assumptions about ourselves that aren’t true — that aging equates to fragility and with it less opportunities to be active and have fun.
This is an unhelpful belief that needs to be challenged.
Ask yourself: Why is it important to be strong?
What activities do you really enjoy doing now that you want to be able to do as you age? What have you already stopped doing that you would like to get back to?
Everyone’s answer is different and important.
For some, it’s being able to play with their kids or grandkids. For others, it may be riding their bike or playing in a weekly basketball league.
It’s important to know why we want to stay strong and healthy because it’s a good reminder of what we want our future to look like. It helps us to take better care of ourselves.
Here’s the truth. Exercise is medicine.
Too little and there is no effect, too much and you risk injury. If you are reading this, you are likely already active. While being active is important, it does not replace strength training. This is why: It does not build muscle mass.
Sarcopenia: Degenerative loss of muscle mass. Muscle mass directly reflects our strength. It also plays a number of key roles including: responding and regulating insulin which is important in prevention of Type 2 diabetes, prevents development of obesity and improves bone strength.
- As early as age 30, our muscle mass begins to decline.The decline exists for men and women. The decline is gradual between age 30 to 50. After age 50, things tend to speed up.
- The greatest loss in muscle mass occurs in our fast twitch muscle fibers: these muscles are responsible for production of power.
- Studies show that strength training is the best way to bend the curve in strength loss.
Strength training is one of the best forms of exercise there is in terms of risk to reward and efficiency. Strength training does not need to be complex or time consuming for you to reap the rewards. Workouts like these can be 15 to 30 minutes and if you are training to a high enough intensity, 1 to 2 times a week is enough to improve your strength.
Golden rules of strength training:
- To maximize results, minimize risk: Do simple exercises. Strength machines are good here because they minimize the number of technical errors you can make, which minimizes injury risk.
- Cover all major muscle groups. You want to aim for about 5 to 7 exercises here: Chest press, shoulder press, pull down or row, leg press, leg curl, leg extension. Don’t be afraid to mix up the order.
- To get the best results, move slowly and keep your muscles under tension.
- Quality over quantity. It’s not about how many repetitions you do, it’s how you do them.
- Push to the point of muscle failure. This means emptying the tank: you are breathing hard, your muscles are shaking and burning and you physically can’t do one more repetition.
We know that the stronger we are, the more adaptable and resilient we are. I encourage you to build your strength to ensure you have a healthy, happy future.
Laura Furneaux is a physiotherapist and former national team sprint kayaker. She works in Dartmouth, N.S., and her clinical interests are pain science, orthopaedic manual therapy and concussion rehabilitation.
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