In this last of three articles on strength training, Miriam Nelson, director of the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Policy and Science in Boston, continues her discourse on strength training.
Q: Is aerobic exercise less important than strength training?
A: I would never say that strength training is much more important than taking a walk. It’s like asking me which of my three kids is my favorite. All physical activity is critical for healthy aging and good health at any age. It’s just that as we get older, the loss of muscle becomes more critical, so strength training takes on a more important role.
Q: What’s the minimum for aerobic exercise?
A: It’s a stepwise process. You may start with just 10 minutes three times a week. But you want to work up to at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days and some vigorous activity mixed in at least two or three days of the week.
Q: Is brisk walking “moderate”?
A: It depends on how old you are. For a frail elder, slow walking is moderate. For a 20-year-old, running is moderate. For most 40- or 50-year-olds, it’s brisk walking. Vigorous exercise means brisk walking for an elderly person, maybe jogging for the 50-year-old, and running faster or uphill for the 20-year-old.
Q: Doesn’t aerobic exercise burn more calories than strength training?
A: Yes. But strength training helps improve basal metabolism and promotes more muscle mass and bone. The older you get, the more important strength training becomes. But in the end, it’s about exercising...any kind.
Q: What about men?
A: Everything applies to them, too. Most of our studies include both men and women. But there are some differences. Men naturally have more muscle and they don’t live as long, though that’s changing. More men are living to advanced age, but they get a little reprieve. Things like osteoporosis start happening about a decade later to men than to women. And diabetes and arthritis disproportionately affect women.
Q: Is it better if someone pushes you to lift more weight?
A: With anything you do, it’s nicer to have somebody helping you out. That’s why we try to get people to exercise with a friend or neighbor. You can gab and catch up. And instead of just drinking coffee, you get strong together. Or find a community program, because it’s nice to socialize as well.
Q: Is it better to lift weights very slowly?
A: Superslow strength-training techniques have been around for years. Apart from anecdotal reports, there has been no published research on them. At Tufts University, we use about six to eight seconds for each repetition, which is slow, but not superslow. I believe that the superslow technique, which takes 15 to 20 seconds for each repetition, is perfectly safe and effective. Most people strength train at too fast a pace, which makes their training much less effective. The superslow method forces people to concentrate on their form and on feeling the movement of their muscles as they lift and lower the weight. But the superslow pace can be monotonous for some people and can cause more muscle soreness than is necessary. Also, because each exercise takes so much longer, a superslow pace usually means that you do only a few exercises. So if you want a slower pace for variety’s sake, just make sure that you do at least six to 10 different exercises and that you leave some time for aerobic exercise.
Copyright 2004 CSPI. Reprinted with permission from Nutrition Action Healthletter. 1875 Connecticut Ave. N.W., Suite 300, Washington, D.C. 20009-5728.