5 reasons to strength train

In case you haven’t noticed yet — muscle mass naturally diminishes with age. If you don’t do anything to replace the muscle you lose, you’ll increase fat. But regular strength training can help you preserve and enhance your muscle mass — at any age. As part of your weight-loss plan, building lean muscle mass will help you control your body fat: As you increase lean muscle mass, your body burns calories more efficiently.

Strength training also helps you:

  1. Develop strong bones, reducing your risk of osteoporosis
  1. Reduce your risk of injury — building muscle protects your joints from injury
  2. Boost your stamina — as you grow stronger, you won’t fatigue as easily
  3. Improve your body image
  4. Get a better night’s sleep


Consider the options 
Most fitness centers offer various resistance machines, weights and other tools for strength training. But hand-held weights can also work well. In addition, resistance bands — elastic-like tubes or bands available in different tensions — are inexpensive. Of course, your own body weight counts, too. Try pushups, pullups, abdominal crunches and leg squats.

Start slowly and work your way up 
When you begin strength training, start slowly. Warm up with five to 10 minutes of stretching or gentle cardio activity, such as brisk walking. Then grab a light weight that you can lift at least 12 to 15 times, using smooth, controlled motions. Eventually, train with a weight that tires your muscles — so it’s difficult to finish the motion by the 12th repetition. (The number of repetitions refers to the number of times you do a specific exercise. One set means completing a specific number of repetitions.) If you use the proper weight or amount of resistance, you can build muscle just as efficiently with a single set of 12 repetitions as you can with more sets of the same exercise. When you can easily do 12 or more repetitions of a specific exercise, increase the weight or resistance by up to 10 percent.

To give your muscles time to recover, rest one full day between exercising each specific muscle group. But stop if you feel pain. Although mild muscle soreness is normal, sharp pain and sore or swollen joints are signs that you’ve overdone it. Two to three strength-training sessions a week for 20 to 30 minutes are enough for most people.

Healthy food can be convenient, too.

You know that the oversized portions, endless bread baskets and heavy sauces at restaurants can thwart your efforts to lose weight. But do you know how many calories you’re eating at your own kitchen table or office desk from foods that were prepared outside your home? This includes takeout foods, ready-to-eat entrees, to-go pizzas and paninis, deli salads, and all the prepared foods made in your local grocery store.

If you’re eating a lot of meals that you didn’t make with your own two hands, you’re in good company. Research shows that spending on takeout and prepared foods has been on the rise in the United States for the past four decades. This trend is a serious contributor to weight gain and other health problems in adults and children.

What’s the connection? When you buy takeout or prepared foods, you’re often trading convenience for calories. Foods prepared outside your home are a timesaver, but they often contain more fatty and sugary ingredients than you would typically use at home. Plus, portions can be big. As a result, grabbing foods on the go can add a lot of calories to your day. In addition, prepared foods tend to be high in salt and low in fiber and other nutrients that help promote overall health.

A deliberate effort to curb your convenience foods or choose healthier options can make a huge difference in your weight-loss efforts. Follow these tips:

  • Eat breakfast at home, or pack it up. It’s ideal to avoid less-healthy takeout and prepared foods as much as possible. But that may seem difficult if you regularly eat on the run. Start one meal at a time. Eat a quick and healthy breakfast — such as whole-grain cereal or whole-grain toast with peanut butter and a piece of fruit — before you leave the house. Or take a healthy option — such as a banana and yogurt — with you rather than picking up a bagel or muffin at your local coffee shop.
    If your mornings are frantic, figure out what you’re going to eat the night before and set out dry ingredients and bowls to save time. Or make a t-go breakfast the night before that you can grab in the morning.
  • Pack a flavorful, healthy lunch that you look forward to eating. It doesn’t matter how healthy your packed lunch is if you skip it and head to a cafe with co-workers — or it leaves you unsatisfied and reaching for a cookie. If you look forward to a turkey sandwich with lettuce and tomato on whole-wheat bread and a side of fruit every day, that’s great. If not, pack something you want to eat. Cook an extra chicken breast at dinner. Then slice it and toss it with strawberries, pecans and spinach for lunch. Or put together a whole-wheat wrap with black beans, salsa, lettuce, tomato and a few slices of avocado.
  • Bring along healthy snacks. When you leave the house, take fresh fruits and vegetables with you. Or keep them at your office. Having healthy snacks at hand will reduce your reliance on convenience foods. To save time, cut up veggies or fruit when you return from the grocery store and put them in travel containers. Or pack a few pretzels and a small container of cottage cheese for dipping.
  • Assemble simple dinners. You can assemble a quick dinner from fresh ingredients in the same amount of time it takes to wait in line at your local takeout joint. Rather than running for takeout, go to the grocery store and buy smoked salmon, a whole-wheat baguette and the fixings for a Greek salad — cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, green pepper, red onion, kalamata olives, a sprinkling of feta cheese, and red-wine vinegar and olive oil for vinaigrette. Toss together the salad ingredients and serve on a platter with the salmon and baguette.

    Better yet, put these ingredients on your shopping list and meal plan. This Greek-inspired meal will come together even more swiftly if you don’t have to stop at the store. And like any dish, the more often you make it, the quicker it is to prepare. Don’t care for salmon? Substitute water-packed canned tuna or already-cooked chicken.

Choose wisely when you buy prepared foods. Despite your best efforts to cut back on convenience foods, they may still be part of your diet occasionally. When you do purchase ready-to-eat entrees or takeout meals, avoid fried items and cheesy options. Steamed, broiled, baked or poached entrees tend to be healthier choices. Choose lower-calorie sauces and condiments. Substitute brown rice, whole-wheat bread and other whole grains as much as possible, and load up on fresh vegetables.

Cardio 101: Benefits and tips

In a nutshell, the term aerobic means “with oxygen.” Aerobic exercise and activities are also called cardio, short for “cardiovascular.” During aerobic activity, you repeatedly move large muscles in your arms, legs and hips. Your heart rate increases and you breathe faster and more deeply. This maximizes the amount of oxygen in your blood and ultimately helps you use oxygen more efficiently.

How well you use oxygen is called your aerobic capacity. When your aerobic capacity is high, your heart, lungs and blood vessels efficiently deliver large amounts of oxygen throughout your body. As a result, you feel more energized and don’t tire as quickly.

If you are a beginner to exercise, start with low to moderately intense cardio activities, so you can do them for long periods of time and gain many health benefits. Common examples include walking, bicycling, swimming, dancing and water aerobics, but don’t limit yourself: You can choose any activities you enjoy, such as canoeing, in-line skating, golfing or martial arts.


If you haven’t gotten enough aerobic exercise, you may use your entire aerobic capacity while walking up a flight of stairs. You’ll realize this when you get to the top and feel out of breath. But if you’re fit, you’ll have no problem because your aerobic capacity is greater. That’s just one example of how you can benefit from cardio exercise.

Cardio exercise and activities can also:

  • Strengthen your heart and muscles
  • Burn calories
  • Help control your appetite
  • Boost your mood through the release of endorphins, which are feel-good chemicals released by your brain
  • Help you sleep better at night
  • Reduce arthritis pain and stiffness through joint movement
  • Help prevent or manage high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes

No matter what your age, aerobic exercise will help you in your daily activities and increase your stamina and endurance.

Start slowly

If you’re a beginner, start slowly. You might walk five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the evening. Gradually add a few minutes to each session and then pick up the pace a bit. Soon you could be walking briskly for 30 minutes a day. Also consider hiking, cycling, jogging, rowing, elliptical training — any activity that increases your breathing and heart rate.

Take a three-pronged approach

Include three elements in your workout:

  • Warm-up. Before each session, warm up for five to 10 minutes to gradually rev up your cardiovascular system and increase blood flow to your muscles. Try a low-intensity version of your planned activity. For example, if you plan to take a brisk walk, warm up by walking slowly.
  • Conditioning. At your own pace, work up to at least 30 minutes of cardio a day to develop your aerobic capacity by increasing your heart rate, depth of breathing and muscle endurance.
  • Cool-down. After each session, cool down for five to 10 minutes. Stretch your calf muscles, quadriceps (upper thighs), hamstrings, lower back and chest. This after-workout stretch allows your heart rate and muscles to return to normal.

Moderate activity should cause you to breathe faster and feel like you’re working. But if you experience unusual pain or alarming symptoms during exercise, stop immediately and seek medical attention.