NEW YEAR'S HEALTH NAG No. 4 - Is weightlifting for me?

There's a thought out there that they only way to be healthy is by eating right. There's another thought that the only way to be healthy is to eat only certain things.

And there is another thought out there: Exercise is the answer. Of the people in the exercise camp you have the yoga proponents, the shooting hoops fanatics, the touch football crowd, the jocks and jills, twingers in the hingers, swimmers, runners, bikers, hikers and other aerobics folk.

Somewhere in the list comes the weightlifters.

Weightlifting? You mean pumping iron, getting musclebound and walking around like Atlas shouldering the earth is actually good for you?

Well ... that all depends. But it's certainly worth considering. Or not.

It all depends.

Consider the positive side of lifting weights. Whether you work with free weights (a.k.a. "dumbbells") or any of the myriad of weight lifting machines, a little strength training is a very good thing for your health, your body and the way you look.

Other than all the wisdom we develop, there are a few undesirable affects of growing old. Our joints stiffen, muscles begin to "go south," flab occurs in areas we never thought would soften and the very process of doing anything physical begins to resemble a summit push on Mt. Rainier. It's not all because of those burgers, chips and beer. It's a natural response to aging and an inactive lifestyle.

Weightlifting can help counter those affects and you don't have to end up looking like a well-developed muscle to accomplish it either. That said, a little muscle tone isn't such a bad thing.

Our muscles are in a constant state of partial contraction, which keeps them firm, healthy and ready for action at all times. This is called muscle tone. Even when a muscle is relaxed, nerve impulses from the brain stimulate groups of muscle fibers within it to contract and keep the muscle toned. Toned muscles also make us look good because they add definition to our bodies

Who might want to consider starting a weight training regime? Anybody would is interested in looking, feeling and being healthy.

Here are some of the benefits:

* Strength training creates durable muscles and bones. It also enhances performance, not only in sports but also in daily life (hint, hint).

* Weightlifting will also reduce your risk of injury from other physical activity.

* Using your muscles means using your bones and using your bones leads to in-creased bone density. Increased bone density will lower risk of osteoporosis - an important factor for men and women as we age. Research has shown that lack of bone stress due to inactivity is a contributing factor to osteoporosis. And recent studies suggest that strength training can decrease bone loss even if it is taken up later in life.

* Weight training is useful in preventing and treating back pain. It even increases mental health to help you sleep better and longer and manage stress.

Some common fallacies about working with weights are that it will burn fat (wrong!), that your muscles will turn to fat if you stop lifting (wrong again!) and that weight training will make you muscle bound (wrong yet again!).

Unlike aerobic activity, strength training doesn't burn fat during exercise. That's why every weight program, especially for people interested in losing weight, has an aerobic component to it.

As for getting fat if you stop? The increase of muscle tissue that comes about from lifting weights is not due to increased number of muscle cells - it's due to the increase in the size of individual muscle fibers. Let's face it: fat comes from diet and not moving any more than necessary.

Women are most concerned about "bulking up" from lifting weights. If they had a bit more testosterone than they do, this might be true. In reality, because women have lower amounts of testosterone they're not able to gain muscle mass like men. Only about 1 to 2 percent of women are genetically capable of the "body builder" look.

If you do decide to begin a weight training program, here are a few suggestions to get you started.

First, join a gym and take their introductory class on lifting weights. This is where you will learn how to lift for quality as well as quantity.

Whatever program you put together will incorporate the following elements: Warming up - that is, loosening and stretching your muscles before stressing and straining them. Choosing appropriate exercises to accomplish your goals; breathing correctly; and wearing proper clothing to insure comfort and freedom of movement.

Finally, don't get discouraged if you don't see gains or improvements as quickly as you experience fatigue and aching muscles. As we all know, any improvements in life - any improvements of value and quality - take some time. Be patient. Be healthy.

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