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The Straight Talk on Strength Training and Chronic Disease

There are many types of strength training that can protect you against chronic disease. Muscular strength is closely linked with a lower fat mass and a larger lean body mass—which essentially helps you to lose fat mass and build muscle mass. And by building a higher ratio of muscle mass to fat mass, you’ve taken an essential step towards preventing chronic diseases.

If you already have a chronic disease, your doctor will have likely spoken with you about exercise. But in truth, do you really understand the benefits that exercise—especially strength training—can have not only on your overall well-being, but on your ability to heal, alleviate pain, reduce symptoms and maintain strength?

Meeting the recommendations

If you have a sneaking suspicion that you could be doing more than you are, you’re probably right. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that while 43% of adults met the recommendations for cardiovascular (heart-protecting) activities and 22% met recommendations for muscle-strengthening activities, only 18% met both.

If you know your body has these needs, why not take the steps to provide for them? Bonus: a strength training program causes few side effects, it interacts well with any chronic disease medication you might be prescribed to take, and you can manage it in the comfort of your own home.

What is strength training?

Any type of exercise that uses resistance and/or weights while working muscles can help you to build up the strength and size of your muscles. The CDC states that strength training and muscle building exercises can help reduce the risks of falls by helping you improve your balance.

So how do you build up strength?

  • Use hand-held weights at home while exercising with a DVD
  • Bring light hand weights on a walk or jog
  • Use resistance bands (bonus: easy to travel with!)
  • Use your own body weight (yes, using your own weight counts as a “weight-bearing exercise”) as resistance. For example, squats, push-ups, leg lifts, sit-ups all qualify
  • Yoga and Pilates DVDs are also great tools to build strength
Yoga and pilates are also useful methods of strength training.

couple doing yoga outdoors

You may have noticed that not one of these examples needs to be done in a gym. So even if you don’t have a membership (or don’t particularly like gyms), you can still get all the benefits of strength training in your own home.

Starting a strength training routine

Research shows 2-3 times a week is a good schedule. Two to three times per week allows you to include rest periods of 48-72 hours between sessions to help your muscles both build strength and recover safely. Overworking them won’t help you, or the symptoms of any chronic disease!

You can do sessions of “whole body” exercise (working all major muscle groups for a brief amount of time), or divide your sessions into “split body” sessions, isolating each major muscle group as follows:

  • Arms (biceps, triceps, deltoids, rhomboids)
  • Chest/back (pectoralis major, trapezius, latisimus dorsi)
  • Midsection (abdominals, glutes)
  • Legs (quads, calves, hamstrings, hips)

Building better levels

Strength training doesn’t only build muscle and help stave off or alleviate the symptoms of many chronic diseases. It can also help you maintain better blood sugar levels:

  • Strength training can help your cells remove sugar faster from your blood
  • Removing sugar from blood can help increase insulin sensitivity, which is viewed by healthcare professionals as good; whereas, insulin resistance is a major risk factor for development of Type II Diabetes
  • The American Diabetes Association recommends those with Type II Diabetes start a strength training regimen to help with blood sugar control

Strength training also has benefits for your cholesterol:

  • It can help lower your “bad” cholesterol (LDL)
  • It can help increase your “good” cholesterol (HDL)
  • The combination of strength and cardio training lowers your overall risk for cardiovascular events like heart attacks and chronic disease of the heart

Easing chronic pain with tai chi

In the last two decades, tai chi classes that focus on health have become common in hospitals, clinics and community/senior centers. Tai chi has a well-known reputation as a low-stress training method for better health that supports balance, muscle strength, flexibility, coordination and energy.

Tai chi can be as gentle or as vigorous as the style you choose to practice. As you learn to move fluidly from pose to pose, the practice takes your body through a complete, natural range of motion over your center of gravity. Because your knees remain bent in most positions, there is not a great deal of stress placed on these delicate joints, even though your body is undergoing an ongoing series of weight-bearing activities—making it perfect even for elderly individuals or those recovering from surgical procedures.

Research shows that tai chi can benefit people with chronic diseases like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, tension headache and other painful conditions. In one trial, for example, 66 people with fibromyalgia were divided into two groups: one group took tai chi classes twice a week, the other group attended wellness education and stretching sessions twice a week. After 12 weeks, those in the tai chi group reported less pain, fewer depression symptoms, and better sleep than the control group.

Start moving now for better health

The beneficial effects of strength training exercise are indisputable, especially for those looking to avoid or lessen the symptoms of chronic diseases.

So get up now, and start building strength! Try out the 7min workout (http://7-min.com/) for a quick, yet highly effective whole body strength session. Aim for 2 times a week, and see how quickly you begin to feel stronger, more balanced, and healthier overall.

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