Exercise: Strength Training

Strength training not only helps to improve your health and fitness but can also reduce your risk of diabetes, as well as prevent osteoporosis!


Most people start an exercise programme feeling confident and positive, but often after a few weeks into the routine, their motivation starts to falter. Work and personal commitments make it difficult for them to stick to long workout sessions, and inevitably, keeping fit stops becoming a priority.

Keeping up with regular exercise, however, doesn’t have to be a challenge. In fact, an effective workout can take as little as 15 to 20 minutes just three times a week. What’s more, “a simple workout routine can be easily done at home with minimal or no equipment — think body weight exercises such as wall push-ups, planks and squats,” says Dr Ong Joo Haw, consultant sports physician at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital’s (KTPH) Sports Medicine Centre.

Building strength through weight training is as important to keeping fit and overall health as cardio exercises like running, swimming, brisk walking, cycling and aerobic dance. Your body loses anywhere from three percent to five percent of muscle mass each decade from the age of 30, so strength training is a key weapon against age-related physical and even mental decline.

Why is Strength Training Important?

• It increases muscle mass. “Having more muscle means you burn more energy during rest, also known as resting metabolic rate,” says Dr Ong. “This can fight weight gain, especially as you age.”
• It helps prevent osteoporosis as it not only slows bone loss but also increases bone density.
• It decreases the risk of arthritis, by strengthening the muscles around the joint, providing more support.
• You will be less susceptible to falls as you gain more muscle and strength.
• It reduces the risk of diabetes. Says Dr Ong, “Increased muscle leads to better insulin resistance, thus reducing the chance of type 2 diabetes.”
• It boosts both physical and cognitive brain function, improving quality of life.

“Strength training should be part of any fitness programme, together with cardiovascular fitness and flexibility,” says Dr Ong. Acknowledging that weight-training can be an intimidating experience, Dr Ong has this advice for those starting on such a programme: “As with everything else, start low and go slow. If you approach it with an open mind and are willing to learn, there are lots of people willing to help you out.”

Fun, Easy Strength Training Tips

Try building strength using household items! Simple weight lifting can be carried out in your home even if you do not own any dumb-bells. Household items like laundry detergent bottles, plastic bottles filled with liquid, books and canned food can help strengthen and build your muscles. As you grow stronger, add heavier items to challenge your muscles and make them work harder.

You can also try High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). HIIT involves alternating short, intense bursts of exercise with equal periods of rest, carried out repeatedly in under 30 minutes. Jumping lunges, squats, push-ups are common moves incorporated into a HIIT programme, which help strengthen and condition the body.

These exercises can be carried out anywhere, from playgrounds to the convenience of your living room. If you are fitter, try a Tabata routine, which is another form of HIIT. It features eight 20-second rounds of different exercises at maximum effort, with 10 seconds of rest in between. Over time, you can progress to more challenging moves or increase the number of sets. “This form of training has been shown to have similar benefits, such as an improved heart and recovery ability, an increased metabolism, and better management of diabetes,” says Dr Ong.

Ideally, exercises should be structured to allow variation across training intensity zones so that you gain maximum benefits. And remember not to push yourself! Your body also needs to recover, so make time for rest as well.

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