Training for All Ages
What if I told you there was a pill that was developed to lower your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, diabetes, and injury while improving cardiorespiratory efficiency and giving your body the longevity to do the things that you want to do? Okay…There’s not actually a pill that can do this. However, many doctors will tell you that if they could encapsulate a dose of exercise into a pill, it would be the most prescribed drug in the world because of all the aforementioned benefits. That being said, everything that I just described can be achieved by a proper training regimen. The term “training” does not only apply to athletes or bodybuilders. Anyone can and should train. Training is really just repeated exercise with a purpose or end goal.
The most effective form of training for overall health is a combination of resistance training and cardio. Resistance training can be much more than lifting dumbbells or slinging a barbell around. Bands, stationary objects, and your own body all serve as resistance. Some of the aspects emphasized in resistance training are muscular strength, muscular endurance, body coordination/awareness, and balance. Some aspects emphasized in cardio are increased oxygen uptake, stroke volume and cardiac output which essentially means a more efficient cardiorespiratory system. Cardio also emphasizes muscular endurance which is important for daily tasks such as walking. Cardio isn’t just limited to long jogs on the treadmill. Sprinting, jumping rope, and swimming are all forms of cardio.
Both resistance training and cardio complement each other. They are not entirely separate entities. It does not have to be cardio or resistance training when you step into the gym. It can be cardio and resistance training. Methods such as high intensity interval training (HIIT) provide a hybrid cardio/resistance workout that is time efficient. One of my favorite examples of how resistance training and cardio complement each other is breathing. Breathing is arguably the most crucial thing as a human. Breathing not only provides the oxygen we need to survive but it also supports our posture, influences our mental health, and regulates pain perception. When I am training a client, I always begin with breathing exercises before we workout. Resistance training teaches the client how to control their breathing. Strengthening the diaphragm, the main breathing muscle, means that the accessory breathing muscles do not have to take over as soon. This makes for more efficient breathing which will help to maintain posture and improve breathing during cardio workouts. Breathing during cardio also helps resistance training. The high cardiovascular demands of cardio increases blood flow to the muscles being worked during resistance training. The blood vessels then become more efficient in directing the blood flow to the muscle.
Now that we understand why resistance training and cardio are important aspects in overall training, which groups of people do you think would benefit from training? Trick question! Every age group would benefit from strength training. Teens? Yes. Adults? Yes. Older adults? Yes. Children? No...just kidding. Yes! For the most part, people understand that training as a college student or as an adult is normal and widely accepted. Therefore, the focus will be on older populations and children, and more specifically, is weightlifting safe for these groups of people?
The answer is yes. Weightlifting is safe for seniors and children, and I would actually recommend it. However, there’s a caveat. If I was advising an older adult or child, I would tell them that it might be best to find a trainer who knows what they are doing; otherwise, the risk of injury greatly increases if you do not know what you are doing.
Let’s first start with children. I’m saying that weightlifting is safe for children, so why do people have a stigma around children lifting weights? “Lifting weights stunts a person’s growth.” Actually, it does not. This myth arises from the fact that a child can fracture a growth plate. Fracturing a growth plate is a real concern that I would educate somebody about before they blindly tell their child to lift weights. Working with a trainer who knows proper technique and who knows how the body functions will significantly decrease the risk of injury. Did you know that playing a contact sport is an equal if not greater risk of growth plate injury than weightlifting? Strength training could be the thing that saves a child from an injury during their contact sport. Would I just let my child start lifting weights on their own? Probably not. Would I allow my child to lift weights under a qualified supervisor? Yes! I believe that it is a safe way to introduce children to the weight room so that they can become autonomous and safe in the gym as adults. The key to strength training with children is to keep it fun. Putting them on a strict program could deter them from wanting to workout. Keeping things interesting will foster healthy habits in the weight room.
Now let’s discuss weightlifting for older adults. Strength training for seniors might be the fountain of youth. I’ve already discussed some of the benefits at the start of the article. The risk of those diseases increases with age so one way to offset the risk is with exercise. Strength training specifically can strengthen muscles and joints which prevents things like muscle atrophy and osteoporosis. The other concern as we age is falling. Strength training can improve your balance which reduces the chance of falling, but let’s say you do take a tumble. Having strong bones will prevent them from breaking which is the main concern with osteoporosis.
There really isn’t a “too old to lift”. Obviously the older we get, the lower our chances of throwing around massive weights, but you do not need to lift super heavy to reap the benefits of weightlifting. Having a trainer who knows how to properly load your body with weight (weight could just be your body) is essential to your safety if you decide to lift into your golden years. Just like children, I recommend working with a trainer because there are certain risks with exercise as you age, but these risks can be properly managed with a qualified professional. In my opinion, it’s less about wanting to lift weights and more about the need to lift weights for the sake of our health. I mean who doesn’t want to be the youthful grandparent whose grandchildren are having a tough time keeping up with them?
When it comes to training, I see it as an essential part of our health just like a proper diet. We should treat it like our daily dose of medicine. The best way to ensure health and longevity is to start with a strong foundation and to build upon it deep into the golden years. I think you’ll be surprised to see how many fruitful years you’ll add on to your life.
The Importance of Listening to Your Body
“Push a little harder!”; “Just make yourself do it!”; “You should workout even though you don’t feel like it.” I hear these phrases of motivation all the time when it comes to exercise. Having to do something harder or having to do something that you don’t want to do can build mental resilience which is important for overcoming obstacles and dealing with adversity; however, when it comes to exercise, should you always push harder or do something even though you do not feel up to the task? Before I give a definitive answer, let’s breakdown the pros and cons of each.
If you are like me, then you know the importance of staying fit while at home during the quarantine, but finding the motivation to workout can be difficult. We are all dealing with stressors whether it is the stress of work, family life, or school. Everyone who is trying to stay active at home is also dealing with an often forgotten stress — exercise. Yes, exercise is a form of stress. The difference between the stress of exercise and the stress of work, family life, and school is that we have control over how much we decide to stress our body. Exercise is done in controlled doses. That’s why we typically think of exercise as a “good stress”. As smart as the body is, it cannot distinguish the “good stress” of exercise versus the “bad stress” of everything else that goes on in daily life. It’s very important to remember this about exercise and the body because the compounding stress of daily life mixed with the added stress of exercise can actually work against you if not done in a controlled manner.
To explain this concept of compounding stress, I like to use an analogy of a bucket, a faucet, and water. Think of your body as a bucket holding the water, the faucet as the daily things adding stress to your life, and the water as the stress itself. The bucket is intended to hold water, and at the end of the day, the bucket is emptied of the water. Similarly, your body is designed to take on stress and adapt to its environment, and then it recovers while you sleep. Problems arise when the faucet adds more and more water into the bucket to the point where the bucket cannot hold any more water, so it spills over. After a certain amount of uncontrolled, repeated stress to the body, the stress can negatively impact your body.
Back to the point about exercise being a form of stress… if the bucket is already filled with stress from work, family life, and school, then adding exercise on top of that stress could be doing more bad than good. Most people know that exercise can help reduce stress. This is true as long as you are managing all the other stress in your life. If you struggle to manage stress and always feel fatigued, then maybe exercise should wait. That is why recovery from exercise is just as important (if not more important) than the exercise itself. I like to tell people that managing daily life stress is a prerequisite to being allowed to exercise.
So how do you know if your bucket is almost full of water? This is where listening to your body comes into play. We all have a good sense of when we feel well and when we don’t. Especially during this time where everyone is at home, you might be noticing that you don’t feel like working out or that your body is not responding the same way when you do decide to exercise. When you feel this, don’t be the person who immediately thinks to push harder or to suck it up. Be the person to stop and think why you feel this way. Is it that you just aren’t psychologically motivated (which might be true) or is it that your body is not functioning well because of all the stress it has accumulated? Even if your malaise is because you aren’t psychologically motivated, then that could still mean that your body's not ready for exercise. Mind and body are inherently connected. We stop to think about why we feel a certain way when it comes to our emotions. If mind and body are connected, then we should do the same for our body. Many times people push through when their body is telling them to back off. Doing so can actually be counterintuitive. I am not saying that you should not challenge yourself. It’s just a good idea to think about why you feel a certain way. There are 24 hours in a day. If you exercise for 30 minutes to an hour, then you still have 23 to 23.5 hours of potential stress that you have to manage. This is why recovery is necessary.
Focusing on a proper recovery will help manage stress. How you go about your 23 hours of not exercising are a vital part of the recovery process. Getting enough sleep, eating healthy, staying hydrated, and taking mental breaks are at the top of the recovery hierarchy. Doing these will help not only with recovery from exercise but also with the recovery from the work, family life, and school stressors.
Now, to answer the question, should you push yourself and workout even if you do not feel like it? My answer is that it depends. If you are aware of everything that occurs in your life and how it affects you, then you have a foundation to make a smart decision. I am all for expanding your limits and working hard. So if you are up to the task, go for it! If you don’t feel motivated and you feel like watching a movie instead of exercising, go for it!
The major takeaways from this are:
- Listen to your body.
- Harder is not better. Smarter is better.