Weights can work wonders

THE TWENTIES is the best age to start weight training seriously. By this age, linear growth is complete and the muscular system is ready for some serious sculpting. Muscle mass and bone density packed on during one's twenties and thirties stonewall the inevitable raids of old age on brawn and skeleton - but you needn't wait till then to reap the benefits of sweat and pain in the gym. A chiselled body helps you wake up everyday feeling good about yourself, and the obvious health benefits of weight training ensure higher self-confidence and energy levels plus greater strength and coordination in daily tasks.

How does weight training fight the effects of ageing? As we grow older and more sedentary, muscle fibres shrink and die, and fat soon creeps into the tombs of these dead muscle cells. Some of this is inevitable, and because one doesn't necessarily gain weight overall while this `creeping fatness' is occurring, its only signs can be diminished strength and stamina and poor balance - all too readily attributed to advancing age anyway. Weight training benefits even the elderly who have been sedentary for decades by halting or even reversing this downslide in the body's muscle-fat ratio. It reduces body fat and jolts the remaining muscle fibres into packing on more fibrils and clawing back some of the lost strength.

Regardless of how old you are or how sedentary you have been these past few decades, it is never too late to regain some of the lost strength and functional skills. In the young and old, weight training not only strengthens muscles, but also reinforces the tendons that connect muscle to bone, and fortifies and renders more flexible the elastic ligaments that wire bones together. Tissues become more sensitive to insulin, and this means better control of diabetes. Bones become denser, and they are less likely to break in falls. For the old, the improvement in strength, balance, coordination and self-confidence can mean the difference between being independent and being dependent on others to get through everyday tasks. Some women fight shy of lifting weights because they fear they will end up with a bulging masculine physique. This fear has no basis in fact, for a woman's figure is a product of genetics and hormones.The only exception is when a woman abuses androgenic steroids. Otherwise one can safely do `male' exercises without fear of gaining a bulging masculine physique.


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