TIME TO TAKE UP ARMS Getting into weight-bearing exercise is good for toning, weight management and bone density as we age.
We’re now halfway through January and somewhere around half of all New Year’s resolutions have been broken. Fair enough, too. The notion of perpetual self-improvement seems particularly cruel these days. Even the wellness gurus on social media are taking a more cautious approach to their recommendations this year, encouraging self-care rather than self-help.
Unfortunately as physios we don’t really have the luxury of changing the message to suit the prevailing mood. Just because 2021 was a crappy year, doesn’t mean we can curl up in a ball and hope things improve both globally and personally at some stage in 2022. But there are some positives we can take out of the last year and apply to other areas of life for this year.
The last two years have been tough on most people. We’ve been locked down, isolated, made to wear masks and tried to work out when to use what test. Some folks have barely seen their families, while others have lost members of theirs. Some people have thrived to a certain extent and others have really struggled.
But the key thing is that we’ve got through everything to now. And that takes strength. In this instance I’m talking mental strength, but what I really want to discuss is physical strength, and specifically, strength training.
I’m well aware that the idea of strength training might seem laughable to some older or less-active readers, but let’s pick the concept apart a little.
Firstly, strength training needn’t involve a gym and heavy weights. The basic premise of building strength- or any other type of fitness-training is progressive overload. Starting at one level and gradually increasing the intensity towards a goal.
For someone who finds standing up from a chair difficult, doing several repetitions of a sit-to-stand movement is a form of overload. Once that is easy, doing squats while holding onto a chair for balance might be the next goal. Much as the show has its faults, the Operation Transformation suggestion to use water bottles as weights allows for further progression.
Modern lifestyles mean many people don’t have to do much strenuous upper-body activity. The basic push-up is a perfect example. Once upon a time, the push-up test was a secondary school PE staple. Training sessions always involved a few push-ups, regardless of the sport, and military personnel couldn’t scratch themselves without tripping over someone on the floor.
Perhaps it’s time to resurrect the humble push-up. But what if you can’t manage a full push-up on the floor? Simple, change the angle of your bodyweight. Start by placing your hands on the kitchen worktop and do your push-ups there. Once that’s easy, increase the load through your arms by moving closer to the floor – perhaps use the arm of the couch. The next progression might be to use the third step on the stairs or steps outside, before finally coming down to the floor for a full push-up.
Why bother, though? If you don’t have to do strenuous work in your daily life, why do it for fun? There are a multitude of reasons.
Firstly, weight-bearing exercise maintains or even increases bone density as we age. So, while walking or running might be useful for maintain the legs, unless you’re a gymnast, the only way to help the arms is with some form of strength training.
Secondly, building lean muscle tissue raises your metabolic rate, and thus helps with weight management. So, while cardio exercise might burn more calories, having more muscle mass means you will burn more calories at rest.
An obvious sticking point from an appearance perspective is the fear of building muscles that are ‘too big’. At the risk of sounding sexist, women often say, ‘I don’t want to look like a body builder’. But that type of bulk comes from very specific training, and constant progressive overload. A regular strength-training session two or three times a week won’t give you Arnie’s guns. Rather it will give shape and definition to the muscles that are there.
Most importantly, studies have shown that it’s never too late to start. Regardless of whether it’s a new year or the middle of the year, or whether you’re a new or not-so-new you, it’s possible to get stronger at any age. As some folks are wont to say, you can’t go wrong getting strong.
Andrew O’Brien is a chartered physiotherapist and the owner of Wannarun Physiotherapy and Running Clinic at Westport Leisure Park. He can be contacted on 083 1593200 or at www.wannarun.ie.