CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Of the men and women who exercise, many mistakenly believe cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise is all they need to stay healthy. And while most understand that strength training will build them a better body, they seem to be in the dark about the many other health benefits lifting weights provide.
Women need their iron
I admit we women have come a long way. More females are figuring out that strength training is where it's at and venturing into the type of training that was once male-dominated. However, there are still too many who are shunning weights and opting to dance and prance their way to fitness (only one-fifth of females strength train two or more times a week).
As an aerobics instructor for many years, I understand the joy of cardio (step, Zumba, kickbox, spinning and even old-school freestyle) and the wonderful effect it can have on our bodies. In addition to our cardio endeavors, however, our muscles must also be challenged so that they can live healthier ever after.
They've done the research
The following information is based on studies from the University of Pittsburgh, the University of South Carolina, Penn State and the University of Michigan.
If you're trying to lose weight, you know it's not easy. It's been a longstanding belief that other than dieting, the only way to melt fat is through aerobic activity -- jogging, swimming, dancing, treadmill, cycling, jumping rope etc. We must consider, though, what kind of weight we are losing. Those who hit the weights will lose more fat and preserve more muscle, which makes you feel and look better.
Bad news: Shed pounds through cardio only, and 75 percent of it will be from fat and 25 percent will be valuable muscle.
Good news: Pump some iron and you will lose fat almost exclusively.
As the years go, so do our bones, if we are not eating properly and lifting weights. Sure, you can supplement with calcium and vitamin D, but it's the strength training that helps pull those essential vitamins and minerals into the bone and slow the loss of bone density.
When we lose bone mass, we are far more susceptible to fractures. Studies show that 16 weeks of strength training (for seniors, this is easily found in a SilverSneakers program) can increase hip bone density and blood levels of osteocalcin by 19 percent, which is an indicator of bone growth.
Lift weights and you will increase lean muscle, which burns more calories at rest than fat does. In fact, challenge your large muscles (quads, glutes and shoulders), and you will raise your metabolism (the rate at which you burn calories) post-workout for 39 hours! So do more than cardio if you want your body to become a lean, mean, calorie-burning machine.
Physical activity, including strength work, reminds your brain to stay the course in terms of the food you eat. After all, few of us want to work our butts off and then toss the benefits aside by pulling into the fast-food drive-through. Researchers found that those who trained for at least three hours a week were less likely to go over their daily, allotted calories and/or eat unhealthy snacks.
Between the ages of 30 and 50, we lose about 10 percent of our muscle mass. Even worse, if we are not actively building muscle, this loss will be replaced by fat, which takes up about 18 percent more space. Try fitting 18 percent more of you into your jeans. Never a good look.
The studies agree that weight training about three times a week will decrease anger and improve one's mood considerably.
Think only cardio training helps your heart? Think again, because challenging your muscles can really help your blood pressure. Research shows that people combining cardio with weights three times a week reduced their chance of stroke by 40 percent and their chance of heart attack by 15 percent.
The most positive study for me was learning that total-body strength was associated with a lower risk of mortality from cancer and cardiovascular disease. Researchers found that people who preserved their strength as they aged were much more likely to live to the age of 85 free of a major disease.
If these findings aren't enough to lure you into the weight room, perhaps there is a reasonable explanation. Research shows that challenging muscles consistently improves cognitive function, long-term and short-term memory, verbal reasoning and attention span. Think about it.
Cindy Boggs, wellness presenter and author, is an ACE-certified instructor/trainer. Send your questions about fitness, training or health to firstname.lastname@example.org. Look for her award-winning fitness advice book, "CindySays ... You Can Find Health in Your Hectic World" on her website, www.cindysays.com.