Since Dr. Kenneth Cooper published his first Aerobics book in 1968, there has been a strong emphasis on physical fitness in the United States. We've experienced the running revolution of the 1970s, the aerobic dance movement of the '80s, and the strength-training boom of the '90s. Today, most people are aware that exercise is good for their health and is an effective means of preventive medicine.
It is therefore hard to understand why so few people regularly participate in an exercise program. According to the United States Public Health Service Centers for Disease Control, less than 10 percent of all Americans perform enough physical activity to attain any measurable fitness benefits. Most of those who do exercise consistently are walkers and joggers, leaving less than 5 percent of the general public who do strength training.
There are numerous reasons why people avoid strength training - almost all of them myths. Some don't do it because they have heard that it may increase their blood pressure. Fortunately, this is not true. Although every adult should have his or her doctor's approval before starting a strength program, research reveals that properly performed strength exercise is similar to aerobic activity in terms of blood pressure response. That is, systolic pressure increases about 35 to 50 percent during exercise and returns quickly to resting levels after the session. More important, studies show that several weeks of strength training result in significant reductions in resting blood pressure. In a study I conducted and completed this year, 785 men and women who participated in a two-month program of strength and endurance exercise experienced an average 4 mm Hg decrease in systolic blood pressure and a 3 mm Hg decrease in diastolic blood pressure. Sensible strength training, by itself or in combination with endurance exercise, has beneficial effects on resting blood pressure.
Fear of increasing body weight is another reason many adults avoid strength exercise. They mistakenly believe that weight training is synonymous with weight gain. It is true that strength training adds muscle, but this is actually the best way to lose fat. In fact, strength exercise has a threefold impact on fat reduction. First, it increases calorie use during each training session. Second, it increases calorie use for several hours following exercise due to the afterburn effect. Third, it increases calorie use all day by adding new muscle tissue. This is because every pound of new muscle uses about 35 calories each day just for tissue maintenance.
Of course, there are a variety of health-related reasons to do strength exercise. These include increased bone density, improved glucose metabolism, faster gastrointestinal transit, better blood lipid levels, reduced low back pain, and less arthritic discomfort.
Perhaps the most prevalent misunderstanding about strength training, particularly for those who would like to do it, is the time requirement. Many adults simply do not have time to do the multiple-set workouts they have been told are necessary for strength development. Fortunately, time-efficient, single-set training can be just as productive as time-consuming multiple-set training when performed properly.
Basic and Brief Strength Exercise
During the past five years we have made careful pre-and post-training assessments of the 1,132 participants in our basic exercise program. These classes meet two or three days a week, one hour per session, with 25 minutes of strength exercise (11 Nautilus machines) and 25 minutes of aerobic activity (treadmill walking or stationary cycling).