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When people think about exercising for health, the first thing that comes to mind is typically cardio exercises and lifting heavy weights at the gym.
However, as research is emerging on the benefits of strength training, new findings suggest that the advantages that come with strength training can happen outside a gym, using body weight exercises, for example.
Reductions in blood pressure, blood lipids, and blood glucose are all benefits of regular strength training (1). There’s evidence that the improvements seen are at least as significant as aerobic exercise. Yet, while the recommendations are to engage in at least two strength training episodes per week, researchers estimate only 9 percent of adults meet the recommendations (2).
In a recent study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers followed up with more than 80 thousand adults, recruited over 30 years (3). The average length of follow-up was nine years. Researchers were interested in strength training exercise and how often, if at all, individuals participated in strength or resistance training exercises. They then calculated the risk of death according to how much and how often they exercised.
As it turns out, it doesn’t matter if strength training exercises are completed in a gym or in another setting so long as strength and resistance exercises were completed through the week. Adults who worked out in a gym averaged 60 minutes per week, while those working at home using body weight exercises averaged 50 minutes per week. Those who usually completed their training sessions in a gym reported using free weights or weight machines while those who worked out in other locations, their home or a park for example, primarily used body weight exercises. Not all participants met the guidelines for aerobic activity, but it turns out that had little effect on the overall results.
Participation in any form of strength training exercise was associated with a 31 percent lower risk of cancer mortality and a 23 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality – independent of whether the person met aerobic guidelines as well – versus adults who did not regularly participate in any form of strength training.
The results of this study are very encouraging for anyone who wants to work out at home or forego lifting the traditional weights and use the machines at the gym. Just incorporating an hour of strength training through the week is enough to promote health benefits.
A good way to incorporate an hour of resistance training each week is by using the PRISE protocol developed by Paul Arciero, Ph.D. Strength training is part of Dr. Arciero’s recommended program, as the “R” stands for resistance training. Sessions should be approximately an hour long and consist of a dynamic warmup, footwork and agility exercises, lower and upper body resistance exercises, and core exercises. Exercises should cause muscular fatigue in 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets. Participants should take a 30-second rest between sets and a 60-second rest between different exercises.
- Westcott WL. Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health. Curr Sport Med Rep. 2012 Jul/Aug; 11(4): 209-216. doi: 1249/JSR.0b013e31825dabb8.
- Kraschnewski JL, Sciamanna CN, Poger JM, et al. Is strength training associated with mortality benefits? A 15 year cohort study of US older adults. Prev Med. 2016 Jun; 87: 121-127. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2016.02.038.
- Stamatakis E, Lee I, Bennie J, et al. Does strength promoting exercise confer unique health benefits? A pooled analysis of eleven population cohorts with all-cause, cancer, and cardiovascular mortality endpoints. Am J Epidemiol. 2017 Oct 31. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwx345.