As you consider your 2012 fitness plans, may I humbly suggest weights? I spurned them for years and years, persuading myself that it was enough to heft children and grocery bags. I was excellently addicted to cardio, but did basically no strength training at all. Then, last month, came my day of reckoning: a fitness assessment that found that all my cardio had paid off with a healthy pulse, but that I could do only three --- count 'em, three — full sit-ups. And my overall strength performance was decidedly mediocre for a woman who has been called “strapping.” (And by Russians, who know from strapping women.)
Those three lonely little sit-ups woke me up. Whatever I thought I was getting away with, I wasn’t. Shades of junior-high humiliation. But we are grown now, and we do not wallow in angst — we take action. I started using the weight machines at my gym, two times a week, two tough circuits each time. And to my own shock, I like it. A lot. I'm stretching on a few of these, but here are 12 reasons, from the scientific to the trivial, why you may want to join me:
1. Mood. I'm feeling oddly good lately. Could be hormones. But there's some evidence that lifting weights lifts your mood (though nothing like the mountain of evidence on aerobic exercise.) Here's a study about improving mood post-heart attack, covered on WebMD; and from Slate, here's what positive psychologist Todd Kashdan told Gretchen Rubin of "The Happiness Project" fame when she asked him which activities most comforted him: "There are workout sessions where I lift weights, grunt, and temporarily shed the other layers of my existence. My equanimity hinges on my ability to be a warrior in the gym."
2. Your heart and blood pressure: Recent research suggests that aerobic exercise has no monopoly on heart benefits. Example: A study last year from Appalachian State University in which subjects did 45 minutes of moderate weight training. The university reported that Dr. Scott Collier 'found that the resistance training resulted in as much as a 20 percent decrease in a person’s blood pressure, which is as good as or better than the benefit of taking anti-hypertensive medication. 'And exercise has no adverse side effects,” Collier said."
Men's Fitness translated the study into the headline, "Get heart healthy by lifting weights."
3. A great many other health benefits. They range from bone-building to body mechanics to reduced risk of falling as you get older. You can read about some of them on everydayhealth.com here.
Okay, that's enough of the serious stuff, now for the little things that keep me coming back, like: After years of needing music with a specific, rapid beat for running or doing aerobics — much of it performed by chipmunks — I can now listen to any music I want as I do weights. Lately, that means Adele; she strikes me as being all about striving, and so do weights.
5. Accoutrements. Another advantage over running or step: Footwear doesn't much matter, and neither does bra quality.
6. My new mantra: "I'm not made to be thin, but I can be muscular."
7. Channel your inner decorator: I've fought it, as a daughter of the first feminist generation, but I might as well own it: I get kind of a kick out of redecorating. And what is weight-lifting if not a visible remodeling of the body? "Hmmm, yes, just a touch more bicep here, a bit more tricep there, and that arm will really pop!"
8. Getting better. Amid the general entropy of aging, lifting weights — with the notable progress that regular sessions tend to bring — are a vivid counter-example of how, with a bit of effort, we can actually get better at certain things as we get older.
9. Everything else gets easier. That's the corollary to getting better: Carting bags of milk, doing step or elliptical, getting out of a chair — very quickly, it all starts to seem easier.
10. Not "burn" but light. Darn that Jane Fonda and her imprecations to "feel the burn." Real burn pain is famously one of the worst of agonies. I'm trying to tell myself that the sensation of a muscle working very hard is not a burn but a filling with light, much as an area of brain can "light up" on a scanner. I'm not totally persuaded yet, but if I can get there, lifting weights could eventually feel like lighting up one spot after another — a slow pinball machine of the body.
11. Fighting gravity: It may be my imagination, but certain body parts seem to have gotten slightly higher lately. I have to crane my neck to look over my shoulder to see, but I'd swear there's a difference...
12. And most persuasive of all: Hopes of "the pec pop of love." (Granted, this may have more appeal for men than women.) During a typically tedious barrage of cinema previews recently, the audience audibly gasped when The Rock demonstrated this astonishing, berry-bouncing pectoral feat. Truly, human potential knows no bounds. It's at minute 2:22 in the trailer below:
This program aired on January 2, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.