Last week, we discussed the first part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s current recommendations for physical activity for adults. It is recommended that we strive for 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise and two days of weight training per week.
The weight training recommendation is to participate in muscle strengthening activities that target all major muscle groups. This can be either split up among multiple days or a full circuit twice a week. The muscle groups that should be targeted are the arms, shoulders, legs, hips, back, chest and abdomen.
The next question most people ask is how long we should perform weight training exercises. There is no set time for these exercises. Rather, it is recommended to do an exercise for eight to 12 repetitions. You should do that set of repetitions one to three times as you are able. We should aim to pick weights that make the last one to two repetitions a challenge to complete. This will ensure you get the most out of your exercises and promote muscle growth.
So, what are the benefits of weight training? Research has shown that our muscle mass worsens as we age. This causes us to naturally weaken if we don’t actively work to maintain our muscle tone. By lifting heavy things, we help keep our muscle mass. Weight training exercises help strengthen bones, thus decreasing the risk of developing osteoporosis or breaking a bone as we age. Studies found that training can help with weight management and can improve chronic conditions such as arthritis, back pain, heart disease, depression or even diabetes. Finally, regular strength training improves our cognitive abilities and sharpens our minds.
We have discussed the purpose and frequency of weight training. Let’s talk about how to make this a regular habit. The easiest way to do weight training is to use your own body weight. Pushups, pullups, lunges, planks and squats are all great exercises that don’t require any tools or machines. You can also use free weights if you have them or make do with what you do have. Soup cans, milk bottles, books or cases of water all make great natural weights. Weight machines can be very effective but may require training to use them properly. One of my favorite tools is resistant bands. They travel easily and can be used to exercise almost all major muscle groups.
Remember to warm up before working out by doing five to 10 minutes of aerobic exercise beforehand. Cold muscles lead to hurt muscles. Take time afterward to stretch and cool down properly. Listen to your body and stop if anything becomes painful. It’s important to give your muscles time to recover by taking a day off between heavy workouts. Finally, give your body the fuel it needs to build muscles by maintaining a healthy diet full of healthy proteins through either plants or animal products. By following these recommendations, you can then truthfully answer the age-old question, “Do you even lift, bro?” with a resounding “Yes, I do!”
Dr. Samuel Mathis is an assistant professor in The University of Texas Medical Branch’s Family Medicine Department.
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