Strength: Three Reasons
In my previous post I looked at a few yoga postures that were particularly good for building strength. I touched briefly upon why strength training was worthwhile but in this post I wanted to go into it a little more detail, plus how the poses I mentioned can help, particularly for those of us of (ahem) a certain age.
We all know that our metabolism starts to slow down in our thirties, but around that time we also start to lose lean muscle mass in a natural process called sarcopenia that accelerates as we get older. The amount of lean muscle mass you have directly influences the speed of your metabolism as muscle burns more calories than fat, not just while you are active but also while you are at rest. In other words, the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn whatever the activity, even if that involves just sitting watching TV and drinking a glass of Sauvignon Blanc (ok, that last bit is not recommended if you are actively trying to lose weight, but you get my point).
So, if you have been struggling to shed any extra pounds put on over Christmas, then it might be worth thinking about doing some strength training (and perhaps lay off the white wine for a bit). Increasing your muscle mass means giving your metabolism a boost.
Now, that’s not bad for starters, but maintaining muscle mass via strength training offers more. There has been plenty of research into how strength training benefits us in a functional way as we age, but recent research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology looked at strength training and its impact on mortality. It found that muscular strength was just as important for health and longevity as aerobic and cardiovascular activities such as jogging or cycling, and concluded that those who perform strength-based exercise have a 23% reduction in risk of premature death and a 31% reduction in cancer-related death. It also showed exercises performed using one’s own body weight without specific equipment were just as effective as gym-based training programs using weights.
Which is perfect if you want to include a little strength-building yoga into your practice.
As if that wasn’t enough, the National Osteoporosis Society also recommends strength training exercise. This is to help improve bone strength which starts to decline in density when in your thirties and accelerates for women after the menopause (anyone else see a rather depressing pattern emerging here?). Bone is a living tissue that reacts to increases in loads and forces put upon it by growing stronger. Movement causes muscles to pull on bones, and if this pull is ‘loaded’, the force on the muscles is stronger and the effect on bone is greater. Any increase in ‘loading’ above normal levels has the best chance of increasing bone density and therefore strength. The stronger the bone, the less chance you have of breaking that bone or developing osteoporosis.
Youth vs. Wisdom
Now, I completely get that it is very easy to go all out in the gym or participate in dynamic and gymnastic forms of yoga that give you muscles like Madonna when young and vital, but it’s a little harder when your body is older and less forgiving (although yes, I am aware that Madonna could hardly be described as young and vital – sorry Madge, sometimes the truth hurts). However, the beauty of yoga is that you don’t have to perform complicated poses to reap the benefits. In fact, I believe that sometimes the simpler the pose, the more effective it can be. Without the distractions of attempting to contort oneself into something impressive, you can focus on correct alignment and on your body getting the most out of each particular pose.
Poses for strength
None of the poses are I mentioned last week that I list again below are complicated, although they may take some effort and a little practice to get right. They may not be easy to start off with. As always, work within your own limitations. Start small and stay small if need be; your body is your best guide. It may take some time to tune in to it, but always pay attention. Yoga may require effort, but it should never hurt.
- Uttihita Chaturanga Dandasana (Plank) – One of the best poses for increasing strength, this asana strengthens and increases stability in the wrists, arms, shoulders, back, legs and core;
- Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-limbed staff pose) – More than a press up, and good alignment here is key – keep your elbows in to our body and you are rewarded with a position that strengthens not just your upper body but also the muscles around your spine;
- Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward dog) – Strengthens the entire back and shoulder girdle;
- Anjaneyasana (Crescent lunge) – Strengthens the quadriceps and gluteus muscles;
- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge) – Works your abdominals, gluteus and hamstrings, as well as your lower back and core muscles;
- Utkatasana (Chair) – A squat in other words. Strengthens hip flexors, ankles, calves, and back.
As previously mentioned, the first four poses in this selection pretty much make up a Sun Salutation. So if you’re already doing this, then give yourself a pat on the back. And maybe add another to it. If you’re not, consider making some of these part of your daily (or so) routine and not only will you feel better – and stronger – your 50+, 60+, 70+ and, God-willing, 80+ year-old self will thank you for it.
The fact that these poses may stop the spread of my bingo wings and perhaps rein in my mum tum has nothing to do with the attraction. None at all.
Have I persuaded you about the benefits of strength training? What’s your favourite way to do this? As well as a bit of extra yoga I’ve been squeezing in a few press ups (15 to be exact) using the banister on the landing en route to bed… so far so good!