Magazine article Newsweek

Reaching Your Peak: Smart Uses for Dumbbells: Strength Training Not Only Keeps You Looking Good, It Can Help Stave off Heart Disease and Other Age-Related Ills

Magazine article Newsweek

Reaching Your Peak: Smart Uses for Dumbbells: Strength Training Not Only Keeps You Looking Good, It Can Help Stave off Heart Disease and Other Age-Related Ills

Article excerpt

Byline: Claudia Kalb and Karen Springen

Every day it seems as if somebody's got the perfect new plan for buff and healthy muscles. Lift as many weights as possible, lift as slowly as possible. Exercise five days a week--or just eight minutes a day. Use pulley machines, no, make that free weights. With all the information flooding bookstores and the Internet, it's tempting to ditch the barbells. The best thing you can do? Learn the basics (read on), find a routine that works for you and inspire yourself with a personal goal. "Anything that motivates somebody to exercise, I'm all for it," says Walt Thompson, 47, an exercise physiologist at Georgia State University, whose own aim is to ward off a heart attack, which his father suffered at the age of 52. "It's never too late."

The aerobic variety of exercise--running, swimming, biking--has commanded the spotlight for years. But the more researchers learn about the vast health benefits of keeping fit, the more they stress the importance of adding weight-bearing workouts to cardiovascular routines. The goal is not to bulk up to look like the Hulk, but to ward off injuries, osteoporosis (men can suffer, too) and even heart disease. Just a few workouts a week--even if you start at the age of 40--might mean the difference between sitting in a rocker and playing with your grandkids on your 70th birthday. "If you don't do anything as you age, you're going to lose muscle mass and flexibility," says Jeffrey Potteiger, of Miami University of Ohio. Strength training "isn't just for football players, it's for everyone."

Muscles are the engines that power our footsteps, handshakes, even wiggle our ears. They are elegant structures, consisting of strands of protein that slide over each other, like locking fingers, when you move. As that contraction happens, your muscles give you the strength to bat a ball or pick up groceries. Just using your muscles isn't the same as actively building them, however. Scientists are still nailing down the molecular process, but a leading theory is that workouts create microscopic tears in the muscle tissue. Your body responds by repairing the gaps with proteins, which form new filaments, increasing the bulk of your muscles and making you stronger.

Humans lose about 1 percent of muscle mass every year, beginning in our late 20s. That means if you don't exercise regularly between the ages of 40 and 70, you'll lose 30 percent; even worse, your body will replace some of that weight with fat. But you can fight back and regain about half the loss. The ideal workout plan will vary depending on age, occupation (accountant --or construction worker?) and goals. Still, some general recommendations apply. For starters, don't think that you have to become one with the fancy gym machines. …

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