If you’re into fitness, you probably already know that both aerobic and anaerobic exercises are important to maintaining and improving your overall health and well-being. Given today’s high rates of obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease, it’s not surprising that weight management and cardiovascular health are most often the focus of today’s exercise-related news articles for the general public. However, as chiropractic physicians, we also have a particular interest in our patients’ musculoskeletal health. For this reason, we’d like to offer a little bit different “chiropractic” perspective on weight training and what it can do for your quality of life over the long term.
When we talk about the benefits of weight training, we’re not just talking about strength. We’re talking about strength, endurance, flexibility, balance and coordination. Importantly, the investments we make in developing our bodies in these areas today (in terms of time and energy) also pay HUGE dividends in the future as we get older. When done correctly, weight training is one way we can preserve our mobility and maintain an active lifestyle during middle age and beyond. But how exactly does this work?
Let’s start by talking about bone density. As we age, we normally lose a certain amount. This is a particular problem for postmenopausal women due to the loss of estrogen, which protects against bone loss. While men are less likely to suffer from osteopenia or osteoporosis since their bones are generally larger and denser, they too can also be subject to bone loss if they do not get a sufficient amount of exercise.
So what can be done to avoid it? This is where weight training comes in. Along with a healthy diet, studies have shown that weight-bearing exercise can help to maintain bone density as we get older. Professor of exercise science at California Lutheran University, Dr. Steven Hawkins, says “Exercise stimulates bone formation, because bone put under moderate stress responds by building density, and, depending on your age and workout regimen, it can either increase or maintain bone-mass density.”
Weight training increases bone mass, particularly in the spine. A study performed by researchers at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, showed that postmenopausal women who do not participate in strength training lose bone mass. However, those women who participated in a year-long strength training program increased their spinal bone mass by nine percent. This means a lower risk of fractures from slips and fall or from other accidents that become more common as we age. It can also mean greater confidence and more years of independent living.
Your body’s frame is supported by an elaborate system of bones, muscles and assorted connective tissues (including ligaments, tendons and cartilage). Within this system, strong core muscles work to maintain proper posture and biomechanics. Unfortunately, muscles (like bone) tend to lose their mass and strength as we get older. This is especially true if we don’t use them regularly. The bad news is that this can threaten our active lifestyle and ultimately our independence. The good news is that weight-bearing exercises can help us actively build muscle mass at any age.
Another benefit of building lean muscle mass is related to weight management. Since muscle tissues use more energy than fat, there’s a sort of compounding effect associated with weight training. Not only does this sort of training burn some calories while you’re doing it, it also changes your body’s composition and increases the number of calories your body burns even while at rest.
One of the most common myths about heavy weight training is that it will make you less flexible. This misconception has remained fixed in many people’s minds despite the fact that studies as long ago as the 1960s and 1970s thoroughly disproved it. More recent studies have gone so far as to demonstrate that—properly performed—weight training exercises serve to increase flexibility rather than reduce it. This is true even among older adults.
A 2002 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research evaluated the effect on flexibility of a 10-week resistance training program on a group of 11 elderly female subjects. The control group consisted of eight elderly women who were physically inactive. The women’s level of flexibility was assessed by a sit-and-reach test performed both before and after the 10-week training period. Using resistance machines, the women in the training group performed eight different strength training exercises (seated row, seated biceps curl, seated triceps press, shoulder press, chest press, calf press, abdominal crunch and leg press) without performing any flexibility exercise. The study found that the training group women had achieved an average increase of 13% more flexibility over the control group by the end of the training program.
Another study, published the following year in the same journal, found that flexibility was greater even in subjects who used light weights (1-3 pounds) on their wrists and ankles during a 10-week training program than the control group who used no weights while training. They surpassed the control group in five out of ten flexibility measures, including left and right neck rotation, knee flexion, hip extension and ankle dorsiflexion.
How You Train Matters
We’ve referred a couple of times throughout this short article to the importance of working out PROPERLY. This includes a number of key ideas, from warming up and choosing appropriate exercises to using correct form (also referred to as “technique” or “mechanics”) and cooling down. A safe and effective weight training program will also incorporate concepts related to rest and recovery days and nutrition. Remember—an effective program that gets results is a program that uses sound exercise principles to promote engagement (VARIETY AND FUN) and reduce the risk of injury.
If you or someone you care about is interested in starting a weight training program, please call or visit our office today for a thorough health evaluation. This is especially important if you haven’t been physically active in a while or if you have a known medical condition.