Surprisingly, Cutting Your Workout in Half Might Be More Effective, Researchers Say—Here's How to Do it Right
Strength training has tons of health benefits—and a new study says it's easier than you think.
Building strong muscles isn't just about looking great in the mirror; there are lots of reasons to incorporate physical exercise into your daily routine. While good muscle strength can affect your metabolism and contribute to a healthy weight, it also benefits your overall wellness in numerous ways.
And yet, according to the World Health Organization, "More than a quarter of the world's adult population (1.4 billion adults) are insufficiently active," adding that "There has been no improvement in global levels of physical activity since 2001."
Part of the problem is that many people feel daunted by the prospect of introducing exercise into their daily routine—no matter how many health benefits the activity offers. But surprising new research says you can actually cut your workout in half and still make it effective. Read on to find out how.
Our muscle strength decreases as we get older.
Exercising is important at any age, and the WHO provides recommendations for getting enough physical activity throughout life. But as we age, maintaining muscle strength becomes more significant, because muscle mass decreases naturally as we get older.
"Your body fat percentage will increase over time if you don't do anything to replace the lean muscle you lose over time," advises the Mayo Clinic. "Strength training can help you preserve and enhance your muscle mass at any age."
This loss of muscle strength is called sarcopenia, explains The National Institute on Aging (NIA). "Typically, muscle mass and strength increase steadily from birth and reach their peak at around 30 to 35 years of age," they write. "After that, muscle power and performance decline slowly and linearly at first, and then faster after age 65 for women and 70 for men."
Strength training has many benefits.
Some of the benefits of strength training—also called resistance or weight training—are more obvious than others. NIA lists improving your ability to perform everyday tasks, protecting your joints from injury, and maintaining balance as some of the potential advantages. All of these "can help you maintain your independence as you age," they say.
According to an article published by ScienceDirect, the additional health benefits you can gain from strength training are surprisingly varied. In addition to combatting the frailty that can come with aging, it's a useful tool for reducing your risk of disease and also decreasing the symptoms of existing conditions.
"Strength training also has the ability to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and the signs and symptoms of numerous chronic diseases such as heart disease, arthritis, and Type 2 diabetes, while also improving sleep and reducing depression," they write.
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Weight training might be easier than you think.
The first step in introducing strength training into your life is checking in with your doctor, especially if you're older than 40, haven't exercised recently, or have a chronic condition, cautions the Mayo Clinic.
Healthline points out that you don't necessarily need a gym membership for strength training. "You can simply use your body weight for many exercises or use free weights, resistance bands, or other home fitness equipment to get results," says the site. But they also note that if you're new to lifting weights, you may want to reach out to a certified personal trainer. "They'll be able to teach you the proper form for specific exercises and set up a strength training program tailored to your needs."
If this sounds daunting, keep in mind that according to a new study, weight lifting is simpler than you might have originally thought. "New research from Edith Cowan University (ECU) has shown one type of muscle contraction is most effective at increasing muscle strength and muscle size—and rather than lifting weights, the emphasis should be on lowering them," reports ScienceDaily.
New research shows how to make your workout more efficient.
The ECU researchers studied three groups of people: one performing eccentric-only muscle contractions (lowering weights), another performing concentric-only contractions (lifting weights), and the third performing both concentric and eccentric muscle contractions (alternating between lowering and lifting weights). All three groups saw some improvements.
The big reveal of the study? Even though the eccentric-only group did half as many reps as the group who both lifted and lowered the weights, "the gains in strength were very similar and the eccentric-only group also saw a greater improvement in muscle thickness," ScienceDaily reported. This is great news for anyone who worries that they'll be unable to fit strength training into their routine because they're afraid it will be too taxing, take too much time, or a combination of both.
"Understanding the benefits of eccentric-focused training can allow people to spend their time exercising more efficiently," ECU's Professor Ken Nosaka said. "With the small amount of daily exercise needed to see results, people don't necessarily even have to go to the gym—they can incorporate eccentric exercise into their everyday routine."