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Joanna Bloss | posted 5/02/2007

Practically every woman I know wants to lose ten pounds. But a few years ago, that was a drop in the bucket for me. One marriage, five pregnancies, and a host of health problems added up to more excess weight than I cared to carry. So I decided to start exercising and eating less. I dutifully donned my walking shoes and watched every morsel of food I ate.

Before long, I became discouraged. Sure, walking paid off in terms of sleeping better and having more energy. But the numbers on my scale hardly budged. And that’s where I really wanted to see results.

Just when I was ready to give up, my friend Rochelle invited me to her weight-lifting class at our local YMCA. Out of desperation, I agreed to give it a shot. That first Tuesday morning, I dragged myself out of bed at 5:30 a.m. and wondered what on earth I’d gotten myself into.

But I stayed faithful. A few weeks later, when I looked in the mirror, I saw a long-lost friend—my waist! After a few more weeks, I was sure my thighs looked more defined. Before I knew it, the needle on my bathroom scale actually moved!

Since that time, I’ve learned a lot about strength training—in fact, a year after I began attending, I became the instructor of that early-morning weight-lifting class.

If your to-do list is as long as mine, you’re not eager to add one more thing to it. Yet I’ve found 10 good reasons why strength training’s worth a second look.

1. Maximum calorie burn.
The truth is, the only way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you consume. Frankly, you can’t afford not to strength train. The reason’s simple: As you build muscle and lose fat, your body burns calories more efficiently. Why? Because muscle tissue burns calories faster than fat tissue. This means you’ll burn more calories—even while you’re sleeping—and lose weight faster than you would if you did no strength training at all.

2. More muscle, less fat.
One study shows that over a two-month period, women who add two weekly strength-training sessions to their cardiovascular activities (such as walking) gain an average of two pounds of muscle and lose four pounds of fat. Increased muscle and decreased fat mean that even if your scale doesn’t change, your shape does. Your muscles become firmer and more toned.

3. Everyday brawn.
Hauling groceries, climbing stairs with mountains of laundry, pushing a heavy vacuum … sometimes you feel as though you’re competing in a triathlon rather than doing housework! Lifting weights increases your endurance so the activities you do every day won’t be as taxing.

4. Osteoporosis fighter.
Osteoporosis is a debilitating disease that makes people more susceptible to bone fractures, especially those of the hip, spine, and wrist. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, ten million Americans suffer from this disease—and eight million of them are women.

Thankfully, you can fight osteoporosis. One of your primary weapons is strength training, along with a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, and weight-bearing cardiovascular exercise such as walking or jogging.

5. Disease preventer.
You’ve probably heard the alarming statistics: 65 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. In fact, the Surgeon General recently predicted that in the next few years, obesity-related illnesses will become the number-one cause of preventable death in the U.S.

Exercise is one thing we can do to reverse this trend. Studies show strength training in particular helps lower blood pressure and "bad" cholesterol levels, as well as minimizes some risks associated with Type 2 diabetes. It also may help prevent certain types of cancer.

6. Less back pain, better posture.
Four out of five people experience lower back pain at some point in their adult lives. Weight training strengthens and tones abdominal and back muscles, making them strong and flexible, thereby decreasing your risk of injury and pain.

Incidentally, have you checked your posture lately? Did you know that correct posture actually can make you look thinner? Try this simple experiment: Stand sideways in front of a mirror with your worst posture (think grumpy teenager). Shoulders rounded, spine slumped. Not pretty.

Now, take a deep breath and stand tall with your chin level, stomach in, and shoulders comfortable. You look thinner, don’t you?

Strength training can improve your posture in the same way it alleviates lower back pain—by strengthening core muscles—making you look thinner and more graceful than you already are.

7. Depression lifter.
After struggling with depression for several years, I asked my physician if I could do anything besides take medication to alleviate my symptoms. He told me exercise was the best thing I could do. I later learned a study conducted by Duke University researchers discovered 30 minutes of exercise a day, three times a week, was as effective as an antidepressant in relieving depression symptoms.

While you always should consult a physician if you feel depressed, remember, something as simple as exercise may help keep those symptoms at bay.

8. Improved sleep, increased energy.
Not only is exercise a natural antidepressant, it’s also a valuable weapon to fight insomnia. People who exercise fall asleep more quickly, sleep more deeply, awaken less often, and sleep longer than those who don’t. And better sleep at night means more energy during the day. Who couldn’t use more of that?

9. Confidence builder.
When I first started out, there were women in my class who had lifted weights for years, and others who, like me, were inexperienced. I didn’t feel self-conscious about being a beginner, as I’ve sometimes felt with starting other exercise programs. I appreciated the fact that while we did the same exercises, I used lighter weights while the advanced participants made their routines more challenging with heavier weights.

As I became more comfortable with the various exercises, I gradually increased the weight I lifted. I never felt singled out as a beginner, and with every class my confidence grew along with my strength.

10. Spiritual formation.
The health benefits are obvious. However, you may wonder if God really cares whether or not we lift weights.

I believe he does. In 2 Corinthians 7:1, the apostle Paul says, "Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God."

When I seek to glorify God in weight lifting, it becomes a holy activity. This act of discipline demonstrates my desire to take good care of the earthly body with which he’s entrusted me.

I’ve also found the strength-training class I teach is a wonderful place in which to share my faith. Over the years I’ve become friends with women I wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity to know. I’ve been able to pray for Kristi, who had breast cancer, and take meals to my friend Holly when she had a baby. I’ve had the joy of sharing my testimony in the classroom and prayed with one student when she felt defeated by her past.

Whether you want to fight osteoporosis, ease lower back pain, or just burn a few more calories every day, you’ll find strength training is a wise investment of your precious time and energy. Give it a shot. Before long you’ll be wondering why you didn’t start sooner.


PUMP IT UP!

You don’t have to be a body-builder wannabe to succeed at strength training. Here’s how to get started:

Talk to your physician first. While most people can begin strength training without a problem, see your doctor if you have any health concerns, particularly if you’re over 50 or pregnant, or have high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes.

Get accurate information. Take time to learn about strength training from a trustworthy source; a local health club or YMCA is a great place to begin. Or read Weight Training for Dummies, 2nd Edition, by Liz Neporent & Suzanne Schlosberg (Wiley Publishing, Inc.).

A little can mean a lot.
You don’t need to invest in expensive home-gym equipment or a health-club membership to reap strength-training benefits. You can work your upper body (biceps, triceps, shoulders, chest, and back) with soup cans, which weigh about one pound each. Squats, lunges, stomach crunches, and push-ups can be done at home without equipment. If you do three sets of eight repetitions of these four simple exercises three times a week, you should see results in as little as eight weeks.

Go slow. If you do too much too soon, you’ll pay for it with unbearably sore muscles over the next several days. A little soreness is OK, but start slow. Once you learn the basics and gain confidence, you can proceed to a more advanced level. Also allow 48 hours of recovery time between strength-training sessions. Never lift more than three times a week per muscle group.

Include cardio.
Your heart and lungs, as well as your muscles, will thank you if you treat them to generous doses of aerobic exercise.

Consult a professional.
Most health clubs have staff available to teach you how to use weight machines. Take time to learn proper technique to avoid injury. Consider hiring a certified personal trainer who can teach you the correct form for each exercise and offer a personalized fitness plan for you. Check out http://www.acefitness.org, the American Council on Exercise website that provides guidelines for finding a reputable trainer as well as other resources.

Joanna Bloss is a fitness instructor and certified personal trainer.