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Published March 05, 2010, 12:00 AM

Strength training offers many health benefits

“Now why am I doing this again?” I asked myself as I lifted the weight with my legs. I remembered to exhale in time with the exertion.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, INFORUM

“Now why am I doing this again?” I asked myself as I lifted the weight with my legs. I remembered to exhale in time with the exertion.

I glanced around the room. Surrounded by a dozen muscular guys using various machines and free weights, I felt like I was in the training room for an action movie. I heard a loud grunt as someone dropped a heavy free weight on the other side of the room.

Oh, yeah, strength training is good for my muscles and bones, I reminded myself.

Tonight was lower-body strengthening night. I kept hearing the teacher’s comment replaying in my head, “You’re stronger than you think!”

Maybe counting backward to zero will make this set of reps easier, I thought a bit hopefully. I think my leg muscles wanted me to get up, walk out to my vehicle and drive home.

I have been taking a series of weight-training classes with my 14-year-old son.

He needed to take the classes to be able to be in the gym with me. I never had used the weight machines at the gym, so I received permission to join the teenagers’ class.

“Mom, my arms feel like noodles,” my son said as he rubbed his arms after using one of the upper-body strengthening machines.

“My legs feel like they’re made of Jell-O,” I thought to myself.

I walked to the next machine on my somewhat wobbly legs. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember how to use it. The machine looked a bit like a medieval torture device I’d seen in an old movie.

I quickly read the instructions on the machine, adjusted the seat, added some weight, lifted the arms of the machine and got in. Then I stretched some muscles that apparently never had been used fully.

Feeling like a wishbone about to break, I retreated and decided that I would try this machine another day.

Although I prefer walking on treadmills and riding the bikes, which I know are good for my heart, I’m going to keep working on the strength training machines.

Fortunately, my enthusiastic son is a very motivating “exercise buddy.”

Strength training has numerous benefits, and research has shown that strength training can help people who are healthy, as well as those who have some health concerns, including heart disease or arthritis. While weight training often is considered a male pursuit, research is showing numerous benefits for everyone, regardless of their age or gender.

Of course, consulting with your health care professional before beginning an exercise program is good advice, especially if you have a heart condition, high blood pressure, arthritis or diabetes.

According to research summaries provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, strength training can help decrease pain associated with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. In one study, strength training reduced osteoarthritis pain by 43 percent.

Strength training helps keep your bones strong and can decrease your risk of fractures and falls, which become more common as people age. Having more muscle mass as a result of strength training also boosts your metabolism, thereby helping with weight maintenance or loss. Muscle mass burns more calories than fat.

Strength training has been shown to help people with diabetes improve their blood glucose control. For some people, strength training also helps improve mental health and can improve their sleep quality.

Before beginning a strength training program, be sure to get proper training to maintain the right form and prevent injury. Work at the proper intensity, too.

Start with a weight that is comfortable for you. Keep a journal of your activities so you can see your progress through time. Be patient with yourself.

After a workout, you might want to refuel yourself with this recipe that’s ready in short order. This recipe makes two servings but is easy to scale up for a family.


Quick Chicken Parmesan

2 small chicken breasts

1 cup dry whole-wheat pasta (2 cups cooked)

1 cup prepared spaghetti sauce

½ cup shredded cheese (mozzarella recommended)

Parmesan cheese

Cook the chicken in a pan on medium heat (in a small amount of oil or broth, as needed) to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Prepare pasta according to package directions. Heat the spaghetti sauce in a microwave while the chicken is cooking. Place the chicken on top of the drained, cooked pasta. Pour the tomato sauce and shredded cheese on top of the chicken. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Serve hot. Makes two servings.

Each serving has 380 calories, 4 grams (g) of fat and 45 g of carbohydrate.


Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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