Making the Most of Your Muscles
It might surprise you to know that the current recommendations are that all adults, especially those over the age of 55, do three strength training sessions per week.
This message is not necessarily coming across; in fact, it seems as people get older, they are more likely to steer away from any kind of muscle work, for fear of any kind of strains, breaks, or injuries. But strength training is encouraged because it’s so good for you in many ways. In the video and blog below I explain why muscle work is so important for health and I talk you through three simple exercises you can do at home.
Muscle work is good for you because it protects you from falls, trips, and breakages in the future. The stronger you are, and the stronger your core is, the less likely you are to fall over. If you fall, and your core is weak, the impact of your fall will go through your limbs, which is why wrist and arm breakages are the most common in the elderly. But if you have a stronger core, you are more likely to be able to pull yourself back up without falling, or if you did fall, your core would be able to take some of the impact.
Muscle work is also good for posture. Imagine if you had no muscle tone whatsoever: you’d be very saggy and look a little bit like a jellyfish. And if you did lots of muscle work, you might look a bit like the Incredible Hulk! What we really want is that muscle tone somewhere between the two, so it holds us well and keeps our posture well, which in turn means that will have less problems with muscles and ligaments being out of alignment or unbalanced.
As you build more muscle you increase the number of insulin reception receptors in your body. If you have diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome or insulin resistance, this help your body to work better with insulin than it does at the moment.
Having more muscle mass also increases your basal metabolic rate, so it changes your body composition and means that you burn fat more efficiently. As people age, they often feel that they put on weight more easily. The reality is that their body composition has changed and they’re not burning fuel and fat as effectively but building muscle can help.
Muscle exercises can increase your functionality and make sure that you’re able to do practical tasks. In some of my classes we do an exercise called ‘lie down get up’. It literally helps you to lie down and get up with less of a struggle. Or exercises like squats mean you can sit down and get up more easily for longer. Having more muscle mass also increases your stamina: the more muscle mass you’re carrying around, the stronger you get and the longer you can endure as your muscles will fatigue less easily.
Working on your muscles also increases your flexibility, which also means you are less likely to have breaks or falls, and you’ll be able to keep doing normal tasks for longer in life. It also improves your bone density: if your muscle mass increases then your bones get stronger too. This can be especially helpful if you’re in early stages of osteoporosis or you have osteopenia, or it can prevent these conditions from developing.
There is the emotional benefit you get from any kind of exercise, including weight bearing work, helping you to feel better. And of course, muscle work can also benefit your appearance – while this may not be our main aim, it is a great side effect!
A couple of years ago now I read an article about three women who had completed a 12-week weight exercise program. Their body shapes had changed, they really toned up and generally looked a lot healthier. Around the same time, I’d hurt my foot, so couldn’t run or take long walks, so decided to do a bit of an experiment and just do some muscle work for 12 weeks to see what happened. Like the women in the article, I noticed a real change in my body shape, I felt a lot better for it, and it gave me a little bit of a ‘buffer’ so I didn’t put weight on quite as easily because I had more muscle mass. So I can speak from experience: I know it works I know it makes you feel better and stronger.
And it’s all the more important as we get older; from the age of 30 we lose 50% of and muscle mass. Not doing any muscle work doesn’t just mean we won’t maintain our muscles, but they will decline and disappear faster. It’s a bit like brushing our teeth, we do it to keep tooth decay at bay, and we should see strength exercise in the same light, keeping our muscles from deteriorating.
So, what can you do? Most of the barriers people find with strength and resistance work is that they just don’t know what to do.
I’m a big fan of keeping it simple. You don’t need to go to the gym, you don’t need to lift weights, you don’t even need to have a resistance band. You can just use your own body weight. And I believe you cover it all with 3 simple exercises:
- a push up
- a wall squat
- a Russian deadlift (hamstring stretch)
I demonstrate all 3 exercises in the video and have explained them below. You don’t even have to get into your exercise kit, you can do this in normal clothes. Aim to do 3 sets of 12, for each of these exercises. You should be aiming to get to the point where, towards the 12th repetition, you feel ready to stop! It’s good to work your muscles to a point where you feel like you can’t do anymore, because that’s when they muscles will start to grow.
Push Up: You could do a push up on the floor, but you don’t have to! A wall push up is just as effective whether you are quite fit or unfit and inexperienced at push-ups.
- Place your hands flat on the wall about shoulder height.
- Take your feet away from the wall, and with a straight body, press in and out, bending at your elbows.
- If you find that is hard, you can step closer to the wall.
- Simply stand with your back towards the wall, and sit down, your back should be making contact with the wall and slide down it as you sit.
- You should aim for a right angle at your knees, as if you were sitting on an invisible chair.
- Push back up to standing again.
- Stand with your legs straight.
- Pick a point straight ahead of you to focus on and bow forward, folding at the waist, but keep looking forward.
- If this feels too easy you can hold a weight to your chest as you bend, or do one leg at a time.
These three exercises work all the muscles in your body. A push-up works your arms, your back, core, and chest. It actually works your bottom and your legs a little bit too but adding in the squat and the deadlift / hamstring stretch makes sure your legs are completely covered off. If you can do 3 sets of 12 of each of these three exercises and do them three times a week, pushing yourself until you feel it would be hard to carry on, you will start to see a difference. You can probably get that done in 10 or 12 minutes, perhaps while listening to something or whilst watching television.
Leave us a comment if you’ve got any questions, and if you think you won’t be able to motivate yourself to exercise on your own, come and join in one of our online exercise classes we’d love to help you get started!