As we all know, it is important to exercise in order to maintain a healthy metabolism.

A strong woman lifting weights

Cardiovascular Training

As a weight loss and wellness physician who has been focusing on these issues with patients for years, I can say that my most successful patients, (the ones who were able to maintain a healthy weight and  improve their muscle mass long term) were the ones who committed to making exercise part of their daily routine. They are also the ones who were able to “cheat” on their diet without much consequence because they were more metabolically flexible.

As a rule, physicians are taught to recommend 30 minutes of exercise daily, and for most people this ends up being a 30 minute walk. This is an excellent recommendation and I absolutely encourage people to walk or do some other form of cardiovascular training, but “cardio” has some limitations.  

Cardio, unless you were extremely sedentary or bedridden prior to starting a cardio routine, does very little to improve your overall strength and muscle mass.  So you can be very committed to cardio and still continue to lose muscle mass over time. This is true of common forms of cardiovascular training like walking, running, bike riding, rowing, swimming and even cross fit.  After the age of 40, if you are not making strong efforts to maintain or increase your muscle mass with some sort of dedicated weight training routine, you lose 1% of your muscle mass per year.

At first you may not have any idea that you are losing muscle mass.  As you get older, ways in which you might notice changes in muscle mass include having a harder time getting up out of a chair (without using your arms to help you up), having a hard time getting up from the ground unassisted, having a more difficult time carrying groceries/bags of dog food/containers of laundry detergent. 

The question you many have is: “Yes, I might be losing muscle mass, but does that really matter if I am eating healthy, losing weight and doing some sort of cardio regularly?”  I would like to argue that it absolutely does matter and increasing muscle mass may be more important than losing body fat. If you were to line up 100 people of the same sex and age and ask me to use only one measure of health to figure out which person was going to live the longest, I would not ask their weight or who had had a heart attack, stroke, diabetes or cancer; I would not check their blood sugar, cholesterol levels or send them for a stress test; I would get a muscle biopsy of their quadriceps  muscle (the big muscle on the front of their thigh).  The person I would predict to outlive all the rest would be the person with the highest muscle mass in their quadriceps muscle.  Having higher muscle mass is highly correlated with health and longevity and a FASTER METABOLISM.  If you have more muscle mass and a faster metabolism you get the benefit of metabolic flexibility. To put it another way, you can more easily eat what you want, not gain weight or increase your fat mass and you are much less likely to develop metabolic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, dementia or cancer if you have high muscle mass.

So what is the best advice I can give to help you  to develop a resistance training program and grow  your muscle mass?  Below is my list of suggestions:

1.  I would STRONGLY recommend that you follow proper form every time you preform a  resistance training exercise to avoid injury.  If you are unsure what proper form is, please consult with a certified personal trainer, physical therapist or an online resource like my YouTube channel: Thriving_MD

2.  I would STRONGLY recommend that you start low and go slow, meaning that you don’t go to the gym and immediately try to lift the heaviest weight.  At the beginning, if you have never lifted weights or have not lifted weights in a long time, you will be SORE for several days after you work out.  While this might be unpleasant, it is a necessary part of growing your muscles.  However, if you lift too heavy too soon you can cause injury which is counterproductive and delay muscle gains while you are taking time off to recover.  So again, start with light weights and slowly increase the amount of weight that you are lifting over time to avoid injury.

3.  I would recommend that you add at least three days of resistance training into your routine weekly. 

4.  I would recommend that when you design a resistance training routine, that you NEVER skip leg day.  Your legs (which include the quadriceps, gluteal and hamstring muscles) are the biggest muscle group in your body. They burn the most fat, they improve your metabolism the most and  they release the most hormones to encourage muscles all over your body to grow!  So don’t skip leg day!

5.  I would recommend that as you start to follow a resistance training routine, you write down every exercise you complete along with the weight you are used and the number of reps you completed.   Once you notice you can do 2 extra repetitions in 2 consecutive work outs of any given exercise, increase the weight you are lifting.  You have to increase the weight you lift over time in order to increase your muscle mass.

6.  I recommend alternating major muscle groups each day (ie leg day, chest day, back day) and having at least 2 days of rest per week (meaning no resistance training on those days) so that you don’t overtrain your muscles.  Overtraining can lead to injury and slower gains over time.

7.   I recommend completing exercise 8-15 repetitions per exercise, but that at the end of your repetitions you feel that the last few repetitions are very difficult. If you find that after 15 reps the exercise is not very difficult you need to increase the weight that you are lifting. 

8.  When you are resistance training, try to work on getting the full range of motion for the  muscle and joint/joints that you are working.  If you complete the full range of motion you will get better muscle growth,  muscle balance, joint stability and greater flexibility.

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