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How to stay stronger longer

» Strong muscles: why they matter

» With or without weights

» What about a gym?

» A few simple precautions

Why lift weights?

If you think you’re not the weight-lifting type, think again. In gyms across the country, men and women of all sizes and ages are pumping iron. Take, for example, Mai Kassberg. In her sixties, she hits the gym three times a week, working out with free weights, weight machines and cardiovascular exercise machines (including a stair stepper, a treadmill and a cross-country ski machine). Why does she take time out for weight training?

Concern about osteoporosis, for starters. Any weight-bearing exercise helps to strengthen bones and prevent the bone-thinning disease. Other motivators for Mai: “Having stronger arms helps me with my golf swing, and I like the look of firm arms and legs.”

Weight training offers immediate benefits, too. “I feel so energized after a workout,” says Mai. “I’m ready to go and in a happy mood. On days when I don’t get to the gym, I feel sluggish.”

Mai’s advice to anyone who has yet to try strength training? “Go for it!”

You may have little interest in being able to do one-handed push-ups, as Jack Palance, then 73, did after receiving an Academy Award in 1992. But that doesn’t mean you should write off the idea of strength training. If you want to remain active, exercising your muscles can make all the difference.

Strong muscles: why they matter

By the age of 70, most people have lost at least 20 percent of the muscle strength they had when they were 30. This phenomenon disrupts balance and coordination. Bone strength also erodes with age, especially in people who aren’t active. The combination of weaker muscles and weaker bones frequently leads to falls.

With or without weights

Did you know some strength-training exercises don’t even require weights? Push-ups, sit-ups, leg lifts and arm curls, for example, are effective musclebuilders. They help men and women keep bones and muscles stronger longer. Plus, they help speed metabolism, decrease risk of diabetes, improve cholesterol levels and relieve arthritis pain.

What about a gym?

If you’re thinking about trying a gym, find one that offers introductory sessions. A trainer will show you how to use the equipment and help design a personalized routine. You’ll probably be advised to lift an amount of weight that will tire you after eight to 12 repetitions. To improve muscle strength —and then maintain the improvement—plan to work out three times a week.

Most likely, the trainer will show you how to use both free weights and weight machines. Although they may look scary, weight machines generally are easier and safer to use than free weights.

A few simple precautions

Always warm up before exercising your muscles. March in place, ride a stationary bicycle or walk on a treadmill for 10 minutes. Then do some stretches to prepare the muscles you intend to work. Stretch muscles again after using them. (Don’t forget to get your healthcare provider’s approval before starting any new exercise program.)

The potential benefits of resistance training make it well worth fitting into your schedule. Who knows, the next time you get some good news, you may want to do a few one-handed push-ups of your own!

© 2014 Dowden Health Media