Fitness & Exercise; Getting strong & staying strong

We all know the importance of being fit, and for some of us it’s a real challenge to make the time and commit to a plan of action. On top of getting regular cardiovascular exercise to improve our endurance and heart health, we also need to build and maintain our muscles, which most common cardio exercises don’t necessarily focus on. As we get older, our muscle mass, bone density, and overall strength begin to decline, which can lead to various health-related issues and impact our overall mobility and quality of life. The best way to combat this is to get involved in activities that build strength and muscle tissue, which means that we all need to be doing some weight lifting or resistance training.

 The surprise strengths of strength training

In addition to improving muscle mass and bone density, regular strength exercises help with so much more that our bodies and minds benefit from. Just some of the advantages include:

  • Improved balance and core strength – helps us to avoid slips and falls
  • Better posture – stronger bones and muscles help keep our backs and bodies straight
  • More energy – we gain stamina and don’t tire out as easily when our muscles get used regularly
  • Boosted metabolism & weight control – with more muscle mass, we burn more calories, trim our waistline and tone our bodies
  • Improved confidence – like any goal we work towards, seeing the results of our efforts is very rewarding

Finally, let’s not forget how downright good it feels when we look and feel our best. It’s hard not to walk with a bit of a swagger when we know we’ve invested in ourselves and it’s paid off with renewed energy, improved health, and self-assurance.

Pulling your weight; start small, start anywhere…just start

I hardly ever go to the gym. I personally find it confining and sometimes tedious to repeatedly raise and lower weights. However, I do realize the importance of routines that focus on developing the strength of muscle groups, and for many people the social aspect and convenience of going to the gym makes a lot of good sense. Weight training is fairly straightforward and easy, but knowing the proper way to do it is essential to avoid injuries. For anyone who isn’t sure of the proper way to do resistance training, there are several options to learn the proper techniques. For example, there are great videos online, you can visit the library to stock up on books or DVDs, work with a personal trainer, or ask an experienced friend or family member who knows what they are doing.

What’s your strong suit?

We seem to come up with lots of excuses why we don’t work out, but when you think of how little time, money and resources we need to build our muscles, those excuses don’t really hold up. All that’s needed is a bit of motivation and about 10-15 minutes a day! I get a large part of my strength training through outdoor lifting and maintenance activities such as cutting and stacking wood, shovelling snow or raking leaves. It seems to work for me; it suits my busy home and work life, and it also feels very productive.

For anyone who prefers to work out at home, there are lots of affordable items including barbells, ankle and arm weights, and resistance bands to keep strength training activities engaging. We can also go old-school using jugs of water, canned goods, sand bags, or, the simplest of all is using our own body weight as resistance. Push-ups, sit-ups, squats, planks, and so on are very effective at building muscle, and those exercises can be squeezed in to a busy day with no major interruption.

A gym, studio or local recreation centre are also great places to go for weight training and they typically offer varying levels of support and instruction. The key is to find a routine that works and that’s enjoyable – every one of us is different so there’s no magic formula that works for everyone.

Another thing to keep in mind is to start slowly and add more weight to the routine over time and challenge yourself to increase your exertion. However, it shouldn’t hurt to lift weights or do any kind of resistance activity, and if it does, stop and check your form or reduce your weights. It is however, totally fine to be a little sore the next day or two – it means our muscles are kicking into action!

Lifting up after injuries

I’ve had a fair number of muscle and tendon injuries throughout my life and in most cases, I’ve found the fastest way to recover has been from targeted strengthening of the muscles in and around the injured area. I’m currently recovering from a shoulder injury from white-water kayaking on the Ottawa river last year; to combat this I find that resistance band routines and targeted lifts with small weights are doing the trick. The point is to recognize that although we have to be more careful when there are injuries, there are still great opportunities to get strong and stay strong (be sure to talk to your doctor or physiotherapist about your options).

Finally, regular strength training also helps with our independence as we get older. Although not the most desirable of tasks, being able to shovel snow, carry in the groceries, lug laundry up the stairs and haul out the trash are jobs that keep us independent and active. Sure, we may moan and groan about exercising from time to time, but the physical and mental benefits of having a strong body are critical at every stage of our lives.

If my mind can conceive it and my heart can believe it – then I can achieve it. – Muhammad Ali