PUBLISHED: 5:45 PM on Wednesday, February 27, 2008
'StrongWomen' strength-training now for men, too
Shakespeare asked, "What's in a name?" Well, for the StrongWomen strength-training program, the name can be misleading. The program is based on results of a study involving strength training and women's health conducted by Tufts University researcher Dr. Miriam Nelson. Although women middle-aged and older were the target audience for the study, the resulting program serves as an introduction to resistance training for women and men of all ages.

Attitudes about exercise have shifted from the conventional wisdom that regular aerobic exercise is all you needed to remain young to the new paradigm: "Muscle is Youth." Yet, not all of us are on board with this new thinking. A recent article published in the AARP Bulletin (Dec. 2007) reported that only 17 percent of Americans age 50-plus do any strength training, and 47 percent don't exercise at all.

FitSmart Editor Jorge Cruise maintains that if you want to get in shape and stay in shape long term, you need to build lean muscle in your body. That's because lean muscle burns calories and revs up your metabolism even when your body is at rest.

In 1995, Dr. Bob Arnot, former CBS News senior medical correspondent, authored a health book for men. In his book, Dr. Bob encouraged males to build muscle through weight training using these rationales:

• Recapture lost youth. Weight training can wind back the years by giving you the same the amount of muscle you had as a twenty-year-old. (This is true unless you were a champion bodybuilder.) Research shows that big gains in muscle mass can be acquired until age sixty, moderate amounts until age 100.

• Increase potency. As a man, the fatter you are, the less male sex hormone testosterone is available to your body. Weight training increases testosterone availability even in middle-aged men.

• Lower blood sugar. With muscle loss, blood sugar levels can increase even without diabetes. These high levels of blood sugar actually cause our bodies to age. If you're active, sugar from meals is burned by muscle immediately or stored as reserve fuel.

• Strengthen bones. Since weight training stresses most major bones in the body, it offers tremendous protection against the thinning of bone known as osteoporosis.

• Harden joints. Strong muscles protect joints, which develops resistance to routine injuries.

• Improve your appearance. There is no better solution for the slouch-shouldered, potbellied, bent-over look of approaching middle age than an increase in muscle mass. Men who spend even forty minutes a week weight training have a more commanding presence and more imposing bearing than those who don't. Want to look like a leader? Take up weight training. Muscles get bigger, your posture straightens, and the bulges go away.

• Lose fat. Research shows that lean body mass increases as body fat decreases.

Form is very important in strength training to reduce the possibility of injury. The StrongWomen technique promotes good form by using lighter weights and performing all movements in a smooth, controlled manner through the full range of motion around the joints(s) of the exercising body part. Lifting weights in this slow, controlled way is equal to the traditional way of doing many reps using heavier weights. Additionally, since the program is taught in small groups this enables the certified program leader to closely monitor participants' exercise techniques - correcting, demonstrating, and guiding proper form whenever necessary.

Why delay? The Juneau District Cooperative Extension Service is offering an eight-week StrongWomen (and Men) strength-training program to be held at Fitness Essentials, 2348 Glacier Ave. The sessions are every Monday and Thursday, March 6-April 28, 7-8 p.m. Cost for the eight-week course is $48. Weights and healthy snacks are provided. Call 796-6221 for program information and to register. Scholarships are available.