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Tone Your Body, Tune Up Your Health

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You’re never too old to start strength training, whether you’re a man or a woman. And research shows that lifting weights not only builds your body but can also keep your brain functioning better into old age.1

Fact is, stronger muscles aren’t just for body builders. While, traditionally, building muscle has been done with resistance using weights, it can be also be accomplished with dance movements, boxing and kicking activities (think Tae Bo). Or gravity can act as your tool as you do push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups.

Strength training tones muscles and thereby naturally reduces your body fat. The more lean muscle you create, the higher your metabolism climbs, burning more calories (especially those empty calories from junk food) round the clock. But keep in mind that you need the micronutrients available in whole foods to efficiently run this calorie-devouring machine. So a combination of a whole foods diet along with strength training wins the mind-body prize. Meals filled with fruits and vegetables also protect you from the joint deterioration that often results from the wear and tear of running or contact sports.

Building The Impressive Body

If you want to impress your friends or spouse, invest in a pair of dumbbells that cost about $50. Or if you really want to astound friends and family, install a $500 home gym set. But if you are like me, you’ll find simpler ways to keep your muscles toned. I admit, I do have a set of dumbbells I use for military presses (lifting them above my head), deep lunges and as ballast for my feet during sit-ups.

But there is much more you can do with dumbbells: Straight squats develop your thighs and toe raisers work your calves. For your biceps you can do standing arm curls. For your pectoral and triceps muscles, you can perform lying bench presses. For your upper back, shoulders and arms, you can try one arm pull-ins while bent at the waist.

For women, I suggest avoiding heavy weights that you can only lift a very few times, unless you want to build bulkier muscles. Instead, use light weights such as five- or 10-pound dumbbells and do 20 to 30 repetitions of particular movements with deep breathing. Also, combine weight training with aerobic activities in one workout or on alternate days for the best all-around effects of weight reduction, endurance and daily energy.

Weighty Influences

The influence of weight lifting on the heart and blood vessels is controversial. In one study published in 2004 in the journal Circulation, 28 healthy men ages 20 to 38 years old underwent supervised weight lifting three days a week for four months and were compared to other men (controls) who did not work out.2 The resistance training group increased their maximal muscle strength in all the skeletal muscle groups that were tested.

However, the effect on the heart vessels was an undesirable 20 percent reduction in elasticity, meaning these vessels stiffened. It’s possible that the men in this experiment indulged in junk food as a reward for working out and that’s why their vessels were less flexible. (The scientists did not supervise what they ate.) Fortunately, this negative outcome disappeared during the four months following the supervised workouts. In addition, during this time, strength training had no effect on blood pressure or artery plaque build-up. The researchers concluded that resistance training was significantly less healthy on the heart than regular aerobic exercises.

However, other studies of weight lifting have shown no adverse effects on the heart or blood vessels, but, sometimes, no real gains either. But remember that weight lifting can lead to a healthy gain in lean body mass (more muscle).

Plus, research has shown that combining aerobic exercise and resistance training can help improve blood sugar in folks with type 2 diabetes.3

Beyond Weights

Beyond weight lifting, I also have a list of simple activities that I favor—sit-ups and push-ups on the floor, pull-ups on a cross bar, and leg lifts while lying on my back.

But you get the most bang for your buck by combining aerobic activities with strength training. I highly recommend kick boxing, martial arts, Pilates, cycling, stair climbing and low impact aerobics. Any of these will use up calories for fuel and build strength and endurance. These can also help you lose weight if you need to drop pounds.

Remember, as your skeletal muscles (including your biceps, triceps, back, chest, abdomen, thighs and calves), become leaner with strength training, your ability to move and run and play similarly improves.

And for people with heart failure, strength training has been shown to improve functional capacity and quality of life. And it’s been demonstrated in study after study that moderate activity, over the long term, also reduces risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, obesity, cancer and even depression.

Relationship Strength Training

Strengthening your muscles isn’t the only strengthening you should do in your life. Strengthening your relationship with your significant other is also important. I have learned this through my own mistakes. I call them mistakes, but in reality they were what I needed to experience in order to clearly learn what a real man does in little situations for the companion he truly loves. In my opinion, learning to love and show love is the highest skill a man can learn.

What are some examples of what not to do? OK, I’ll confess some here. How about missing the opportunity to give gifts on our anniversary or on Valentine’s Day?  That’s pretty typical for a non-connected man, right? (I am speaking of being connected in love to my wife.) And there were all those times I’d keep working on the computer for a good 15 minutes or more beyond the time she called, “Dinner is ready.”

Plus there’s more: Suggesting that her driving and parking style needed correction. That her closet was too congested. That her food purchases were not the healthiest. And on and on. These comments were soft and kind, or so I thought.  Yet, in reality, no matter how I spoke them, they were still clearly evidence to her that I felt she was defective.

Bottled-Up Feelings

Naturally, she bottled her resentments until the occasional weekend when they surfaced. And over the years I failed to see the discontent that was growing. She was feeling less and less in love with me, building to the time when she would finally say she was through. In truth, my criticisms gradually eroded her adoration for me until she felt she could not please me even though I felt she did most all things wonderfully well.

At the time, I thought I was just communicating my desires and observations. Ha, ha… Well, for every critical comment, I failed to provide the requisite minimum of 10 positive affirmations.  As John Gray (well-known author of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus) would argue, according to the female point system, most of my points were in the negative. He notes that, for a woman, buying her one rose or a dozen roses only counts as one point. She keeps a hidden point system in her mind and when her man provides the loving words of affirmation, gifts, quality time, physical touch or acts of service (The Five Love Languages), she adds a point to her trust and love bank. I now see how I depleted this account and didn’t make the deposits she needed to thrive. She was not feeling free and loved, which is what a woman really wants.

And I often see this common problem among couples. I can easily tell within a mere two minutes if a couple is really happy and in love or if they are falling out of love slowly. The signs are in their eyes and energy. Of course, while it is evident to me it is usually not apparent to them. I also see that most couples just hang on to their relationship wishing it would get better. And it can if they take action to learn together while growing and strengthening the passion in their friendship. It is not that there is anything inherently wrong with either of them but rather that they have not come to know the simple ways of being truly connected to each other—and show it!


All the best this week,

Michael Cutler, M.D.

Author, Easy Health Digest

1 – Liu-Ambrose T, Nagamatsu LS, Graf P, Beattie BL, Ashe MC, Handy TC. Resistance training and executive functions: a 12-month randomized controlled trial. Arch Intern Med. 2010 Jan 25;170(2):170-8.

2 – Miyachi M, Kawano H, Sugawara J, Takahashi K, Hayashi K, Yamazaki K, Tabata I, Tanaka H. Unfavorable effects of resistance training on central arterial compliance: a randomized intervention study. Circulation. 2004 Nov 2;110(18):2858-63. Epub 2004 Oct 18.

3 – Sigal RJ, Kenny GP, Boulé NG, Wells GA, Prud’homme D, Fortier M, Reid RD, Tulloch H, Coyle D, Phillips P, Jennings A, Jaffey J. Effects of Aerobic Training, Resistance Training, or Both on Glycemic Control in Type 2 Diabetes, Ann Intern Med. 2007 Sep 18;147(6):357-69.

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