A discussion of the benefits and physiological adaptations that occur as a result of a coordinated exercise program

As we age, it becomes much more important to become proactive in the care of our bodies. Biological factors, inactivity and declining physical requirements lead to reduced bone density and muscle strength, and tasks once easy can become challenging.

The good news is that with a proper fitness plan, you can improve your strength, mobility and health while remaining independent, regardless of age. Exercise is universally recommended by doctors and physical therapists and the reason is simple. Exercise makes a difference. A big difference. Your body never looses its ability to adapt and improve with physical activity. So get started! Some of the benefits of a coordinated fitness plan:

  • Increases muscle mass and strength
  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Improves posture
  • Improves balance and coordination
  • Improves endurance
  • Improves alertness
  • Increases bone density
  • Reduces depression
  • Improves mood

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Although the reasons are not completely understood, exercise is a natural mood elevator. In fact, exercise is one of the most useful and commonly prescribed tools for those battling depression. The endorphins created from an fervent exercise session is just the beginning, Researchers at Princeton University recently published a study that indicates that as we exercise, we create new brain cells that appear to be not only calmer, but more resistant to stress. (1) Regardless of age, a Resistance Training (RT) program combined with an aerobic exercise plan can improve the body’s natural ability to stay healthy, avoid injury and prevent illness.

This is the fundamental approach to a competent fitness program, the beauty, simplicity and synchronicity of pure joint movement and proper muscle function. Your body is beautifully designed to respond and adapt to the work that is asked of it. Thus, with the proper stimulus, the human body improves its condition and strength to be able to accomplish the tasks and work asked of it, without creating undue wear and stress to the body’s skeletal and joint system. An intelligently designed, and consistently executed exercise program should be an integral living behavioral practice of everyone’s life. Making time and making exercise a part of your daily routine will help you live long, stay healthy, happy and fit.

Why Resistance Training? First, what is resistance training? Strength training, resistance training, weight bearing exercise are all basically a different name for the same thing. Loading the musculoskeletal system via weights, bands or even it’s own body mass are methods considered to be resistance training. Weight bearing exercises, properly performed and progressively loaded are the safest and most effective ways of increasing muscle mass, strengthening soft tissues and increasing bone density.

The human body is basically a system of levers and hinges. Our muscles which create movement, attach to bones via tendons. The bones are connected to each other by ligaments. Muscles pull on the bones across a joint (or hinge) and create movement. All three of these soft tissues, muscles, tendons, ligaments, are trained and strengthened during Resistance Training or weight bearing exercises.

Our joints, or in this analogy, hinges, all have safe functions and proper ranges of motion, thus a controlled and systematic loading of the muscles and soft tissues through these proper functional ranges of motion is the best and safest way to create muscle and improve strength. It is important to allow for the strengthening of ligaments and tendons in a properly progressing program. Ligaments and tendons develop approximately 120% slower than muscle.

This is why we see so many soft tissue injuries such as shin splints and tendonitis in boot camps or poorly designed pre-season training programs. The quickly strengthening muscle system is able to deliver force to joints that the ligaments and tendons are not ready yet to bear. Because of advances and understandings in sports science, athletes of nearly all professional sports have added Resistance Training as a way of preventing injury and improving performance. It is also a primary tool in physical therapy and rehabilitation.

The benefits of weight bearing exercises are well documented and diverse. Positive adaptations in the endocrine system also occur as hormonal function is stimulated during many weight bearing, multi-joint exercises. Recent studies indicate an acute rise in human growth hormones during resistance training occur as well as a positive effect on lowering the secretion of insulin due to the body’s need for increased levels of glucose. (2) Increased bone density and capillary density are also improved with a RT program.

Additionally, Resistance Training provides wonderful benefits to aging females who want to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and osteopenia. This is due to the positive adaptations to the axial skeletal system created by weight bearing exercises that target this area.

Why Aerobic Exercise? The health of our circulatory and respiratory systems are critical to our ability to stay alive and well. The functions of these systems are multiple, but the primary purpose is to deliver oxygen to our muscles and brain so that we may create movement and keep this beautiful human machine functioning.

These systems also help keep us warm, cool us down, remove carbon dioxide from our blood, and keep us moving, alert and thinking, throughout the day. The singular best way to improve the circulatory and respiratory systems are through sustained aerobic exercise. The good news is the exercise need not be overly intense or strenuous to improve these systems. At first, all you’ll need to do is simply raise the level of activity above which you are accustomed for a specific duration of time.

Of course, the harder you work, the faster and more substantial the improvements will be. But for those feeling daunted by the prospect of beginning an exercise program, know that you can make significant improvements in your health and wellness without being miserable. If you’re trying to lose fat or train for an athletic event, you’ll want to increase your levels of exertion. But building up to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 3 to 5 days a week will improve your health, reduce your blood pressure and resting heart rate, and improve your circulation.

Aerobic activity is a critical component to your health fitness program. Many ask me which is the best mode of exercise for aerobic activity, the answer is simple yet different for each individual. Choose an activity you enjoy and one which you’ll return to on a regular basis. It’s also a wonderful idea to choose multiple activities and cross train. This challenges your central nervous system to adapt to each mode of exercise and will minimize the effects of your body getting used to an activity and reaching a plateau.

So, whether your objective is to simply improve your health, or if it’s to create the body you’ve always wanted, go confidently forward with an exercise program that’s both balanced and coordinated and one that systematically and steadily progresses in duration, exertion and load. You’ll see the difference, you’ll feel the difference, and best, you’ll be the difference.

  1. Princeton neuroscientist Barry Jacobs’ career-long study of brain serotonin provides new insights into the relationship between serotonin and clinical depression.
  2. Article Alley, Metabolic and endocrine adaptations to resistance training.

©2010 Patrick LoSasso, Certified Personal Trainer, CSCS ,*D (Patrick@preventionthrufitness.com) Material may be reprinted or published with permission & credit of authorship. Excerpts up to 200 words may be used without permission if authorship is credited.

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