Strength Training: Some of the Best Ways to Stay Strong Over the Long Haul
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Nicole Avena
One of the best brain healthy habits is getting regular exercise.
Importance of Exercise
Exercise improves the flow of oxygen, blood, and nutrients to the brain, which helps it to function at its best.
Physical activity can help protect the body against many health problems, including high blood sugar levels. Also, a regular exercise routine can help reduce stress, improve sleep, enhance mood, and support healthy blood pressure levels.
Aerobic exercise aids the process of neurogenesis, which helps maintain memory and protects against cognitive decline and recall issues.
Exercise can help bolster mental and physical fitness across the lifespan.
The Secret to Longevity
Did you know that a key predictor of longevity is the amount of lean muscle mass you have on your body? The “use it or lose it” saying certainly applies to aging. Without a consistent exercise regimen, your muscles may become weak and flabby and your joints stiff and brittle.
No matter your age, moderate exercise can help prevent memory problems, improve mood, boost focus, and enhance your brain’s ability to repair itself. One of the types of exercise that can be a boon for people of all ages is strength training.
Strength Training Basics
Strength (or resistance) training is a physical activity designed to improve muscular fitness by exercising different muscle groups against external resistance. You don’t need to become a bodybuilder or join a gym to enjoy the benefits of strength training. Weight training is user-friendly and can be done at home.
Resistance can come from many things including:
- your own body weight
- traditional free weights/dumbbells
- weight machines
- medicine balls
- resistance bands
- elastic tubing
- soup cans or milk jugs filled with sand
Strength training can be modified so that people of all ages, body types, and fitness levels can participate.
Strength Training Benefits
When you build muscle through strength training, you also may improve your brain health. A review of research published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine found that strength training is associated with numerous health benefits, including a brighter mood and reduced feelings of anxiousness in healthy adults, improved cognition and memory among older adults, and better self-esteem.
Two of the best physical benefits of resistance training is that it helps prevent muscle loss and helps to increase bone mineral density. As we age, muscle mass decreases approximately 3-8% per decade after the age of 30, and this rate of decline is even higher after the age of 60. All aging adults are at risk for bone loss, including post-menopausal women.
Using resistance exercises to work your muscles can help fire up the metabolism to burn more calories, which can aid in weight loss and help to lower abdominal fat. It also can improve sleep, normalize blood sugar and cholesterol levels, support cardiovascular health, and increase flexibility and mobility.
It’s recommended to incorporate some form of resistance training into your schedule 2 to 3 times a week. Muscle burns more calories than fat, so the more muscle you have, the more calories you’re likely to burn.
Strength Training and Mood
Resistance training may help improve mood and overall well-being.
Like aerobic exercise, strength training stimulates the brain’s pituitary gland to release endorphins, which are morphine-like hormone molecules that enter the brain’s neurons. This action can block pain impulses, resulting in a mildly euphoric feeling.
Another chemical stimulated by aerobic exercise and strength training is called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is produced in the hippocampus and has mood-boosting properties. It’s important to ensure healthy levels of this protein since BDNF is found in lower levels in people who suffer from mood problems.
Strength training can produce feel-good effects in the brain, which may help improve your mood.
Start a Strength Training Routine with These Simple Exercises!
An easy way to begin a strength training regimen is with movements that require you to use your own body weight as resistance, like:
- squats with a chair
These exercises will help strengthen your core and support your posture.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends doing 8-12 repetitions of 8-10 different exercises that target all major muscle groups at least twice a week. Also, they recommend giving yourself at least one day off after a strength training session.
The American Council on Exercise offers a free collection of body-weight exercises. These are great for all levels of fitness.
Also, you can work with a personal trainer or take a strength training fitness course. For added convenience, many personal trainers and fitness studios now offer online options.
Caution: avoid excessive exercise, which can cause free radicals to attack your cells, damage your DNA, and accelerate aging.
Exercise is a great way to feel better, gain health benefits, and just have fun. As a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of some form of physical activity every day. If you’re looking to lose weight, you may want to extend the duration and increase the intensity of your workout sessions.
Many have discovered the positive physical and mental effects associated with strength training. Though any exercise can benefit the brain and body, incorporating these strength training exercises into your workout routine can help keep you strong and fit as you age!
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