Fitness -- Let's Get Going (cont.)

Another type of exercise is resistance exercise, which is any exercise that causes the muscle to contract against any external resistance. That resistance can be dumbbells, weight lifting machines, rubber bands, or even your own body weight. Calisthenics, like pushups, are a perfect example of body weight as external resistance. But again, any activity that causes the muscles to contract will work. So you don't have to necessarily join the gym to do resistance exercise. You can buy a videotape; you can use the rubber bands at home, or any type of calisthenics program. Sometimes it's useful to have a fitness trainer set up a program for you, whether it's at home or at the gym and then you'll be certain that you're doing the right thing.

The benefits of resistance exercise are:

  • Increased muscle tone
  • Increased strength
  • Increase in well-being
  • Increase in metabolic rate

For people who are trying to lose weight or maintain their weight, particularly once they've lost weight, resistance exercise is a good choice. It's a good choice because when you lose weight you can lose up to 25% of your weight from muscle. If you lose muscle while losing weight it may become harder to lose more weight. The loss of muscle may account for the plateau that people often experience when they lose weight. So resistance exercise can slow down the loss of muscle and metabolic rate. In fact, there have been several studies to show that resistance exercise can decrease the loss of metabolic rate and muscle by more than 15% to 20%. It's good news all around to do resistance exercise. In addition, we tend to lose about 5%, and maybe even more, of our muscle per decade after age 30. In a classic study of resistance exercise, researchers had 90- to 96-year-old folks living in a nursing home lift weights for 10 weeks. After 10 weeks their strength increased 110%. And they were able to walk down the hall 30% to 50% faster after the 10 weeks of lifting. So it's never too late to start, and it's always a good idea to maintain strength.

The guideline for resistance exercise is a minimum of two days per week eight to ten exercises, 10 to 12 repetitions, one set minimum. As you advance, you may need more sets than one to gain further improvement, but for beginners, one set will yield results.

Moderator: People exercise for a variety of reasons: weight loss, strength, endurance, body sculpting, flexibility, and/or cardiovascular health. How does your goal affect your choice of exercise? And if you want to do several things, how do you combine different exercises to efficiently reach your goals?

"Exercise and physical activity are all about taking care of yourself. We owe it to ourselves to be physically active people."

Weil: The minimum guidelines for general health and fitness are modest. They include some aerobic activity, as I mentioned earlier, either the ACSM or Surgeon General guidelines, and some amount of resistance work, even if it's just at home doing basic activities, like presses, pushups, those sorts of things. Those activities will cover a broad range of benefit: health, aerobic fitness and stamina, and general strength. If you do just those, you can assume that you will have a healthier and fitter life. If you want to be more specific with your goals, then you can be more specific with your training. For instance, if you play tennis and you want to improve your game, then you break down the game of tennis into the components. There's strength and speed and agility. And so you train specifically. For instance, you would spend a little more time, perhaps two or three days in the gym lifting weights, working the muscles that are involved in swinging the tennis racket. And that applies to any sport. If you wanted to run a 10-kilometer race or ride a bike-a-thon, then you would train for that activity more specifically with those activities.

If you want bigger muscles or more tone, then you might train differently. If you want big muscles then you lift heavy weight in a range of six to 10 repetitions, the 10th repetition being fatigue, meaning you can't do another repetition with good form. If you want more toned muscles and not more mass, then you increase the repetitions 10 to 15 repetitions, multiple sets, will give you more tone. If you look at the arms of a house painter, the arm that paints will have more tone than the other arm, simply because the house painter uses the arm all day. So you would simulate that in the gym. If you want weight loss, you need to understand that exercise does help with weight loss, however you lose a lot more weight with reducing calories. The real role of exercise, as far as weight loss is concerned, is more towards maintaining the weight loss for the long term.

So overall, go ahead and identify what you want from the activity and then you can fine tune how you will train. You may need assistance from a fitness professional to do that, but for those of us who want general fitness, stamina, conditioning, and improved health, the modest guidelines from the Surgeon General are an excellent place to start.

Member: Working out with weights sure makes my heart rate go. But I'm doing exercise to build muscles. Am I getting a good cardio workout at the same time?

Weil: Traditional weightlifting, where you train to increase mass or strength, may raise your heart rate at the moment that you do the exercise, and if you move quickly to the next exercise the heart rate may stay elevated. If you rest up to three minutes, as someone who is training for pure strength, then the heart rate will recover.

There is a training technique called circuit-training, where you move from one weightlifting station to another quickly. You spend 45 seconds at one station lifting as many repetitions as you can in that 45 seconds, then take 15 seconds to get to the next station. This may go on for 30 minutes. The stations would include weight lifting, activity like jumping jacks, sit-ups, pushups, weightlifting machines, and sometimes even an aerobic machine like a bike. But if the circuit involves or includes all weightlifting apparatus, but you move quickly from one station to the next, you will get an aerobic or cardio workout, as well as a strength and toning workout. Circuit-training is an efficient and fun way to increase aerobic stamina as well as strength and tone. It won't work quite as well as if you dedicate all of your time to training on just one or the other. However, it is an excellent way to train.

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