8 simple steps to a healthier, stronger you

Published: January, 2012

When you hear the term "strength training," perhaps you envision a bodybuilder with bulging biceps and rippling abdominal muscles. However, strength and power training can benefit people of all ages and athletic abilities — whether you are 40 or 85, well toned or unable to rise from a wheelchair without assistance. And while strength training can leave your body looking leaner and fitter, it need not make you look muscle-bound.

Studies attest that strength training, as well as aerobic exercise, can help you manage and sometimes prevent conditions as varied as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and osteoporosis. But chief among its health benefits is its ability to protect vitality and make everyday tasks more manageable. Over the years, muscle tissue, bone density, and strength dwindle. So, too, does muscle power.

These changes can make once-simple tasks like climbing a flight of stairs or carrying a bag of groceries difficult. By focusing on strengthening muscles you actually use to walk up stairs, rise from a chair, or lift laundry or groceries, the following exercises can help you target the specific muscles and moves needed for the tasks of daily life (or a sport) rather than just building up muscles in general.

The exercises

Before beginning the workout, complete a five- to 10-minute warm-up, such as walking briskly. As you perform each of these exercises, breathe out when you are lifting or pushing and breathe in as you release the muscle. Rest for one to two minutes between sets, and aim to complete two to three sets of each exercise.

1. Standing calf raise

Exercises the calf muscles

standing calf raise

Stand with your feet flat on the floor. Hold on to the back of your chair for balance. Raise yourself up on tiptoe, as high as possible. Hold briefly, then lower yourself. Aim for eight to 12 repetitions. Rest and repeat the set.

2. Chair stand

Exercises the muscles of the abdomen, hips, front thighs, and buttocks

Chair Stand

Place a small pillow at the back of your chair and position the chair so that the back of it is resting against a wall. Sit at the front of the chair, knees bent, feet flat on the floor and slightly apart. Lean back on the pillow in a half-reclining position with your arms crossed and your hands on your shoulders. Keeping your back and shoulders straight, raise your upper body forward until you are sitting upright. Stand up slowly, using your hands as little as possible. Slowly sit back down. Aim for eight to 12 repetitions. Rest and repeat the set.

3. Stair climbing

Exercises the muscles of the front thighs and buttocks

Stair Climbing

Holding on to the handrail for balance if necessary, walk up and down a flight of at least 10 stairs at a pace that feels comfortable. Pause at the top only if you need to do so. Rest when you reach the bottom. Repeat four times.

4. Hip extension

Exercises the muscles of the buttocks and back thighs

Hip Extension

While wearing ankle weights, stand 12 inches behind a sturdy chair. Holding on to the back of the chair for balance, bend your trunk forward 45 degrees. Slowly raise your right leg straight out behind you. Lift it as high as possible without bending your knee. Pause. Slowly lower the leg. Aim for eight to 12 repetitions. Repeat with your left leg. Rest and repeat the sets.

5. Seated bridge

Exercises the muscles of the back thighs, back, and buttocks

Seated Bridge

Sit slightly forward in a chair with your hands on the armrests. Your feet should be flat on the floor and slightly apart, and your upper body should be upright (don't lean forward). Using your arms for balance only, slowly raise your buttocks off the chair until you are nearly standing, with your knees bent. Pause. Slowly sit back down. Aim for eight to 12 repetitions. Rest and repeat the set.

6. Biceps curl

Exercises the front upper arm muscles

Biceps Curl

Sit in a chair. Hold weights down at your sides with your palms inward. Slowly bend one elbow, lifting the weight toward your upper chest. As you lift, keep your elbow close to your side and rotate your palm so it faces your shoulder. Pause. Slowly lower your arm, rotating it back again so you finish with your palm facing your thighs. Aim for eight to 12 repetitions. Repeat with your other arm. Rest and repeat the sets.

7. Triceps dip

Exercises the muscles of the back upper arms, chest, and shoulders

Triceps Dip

Put a chair with armrests up against a wall. Sit in the chair and put your feet together flat on the floor. Lean forward a bit while keeping your shoulders and back straight. Bend your elbows and place your hands on the armrests of the chair, so they are in line with your torso. Pressing downward on your hands, try to lift yourself up a few inches by straightening out your arms. Raise your upper body and thighs, but keep your feet in contact with the floor. Pause. Slowly release until you're sitting back down again. Aim for eight to 12 repetitions. Rest and repeat the set.

8. Curl-up*

Exercises the central abdominal muscles

Curl Up

Lie on your back on a mat. Put your hands beneath the small of your back and bend both knees to help stabilize your spine. Slowly raise your head and shoulders just a few inches off the floor. Pause. Slowly lower your head and shoulders. Aim for eight to 12 repetitions. Rest and repeat the set.

*If you have osteoporosis, talk to your doctor before trying this exercise. He or she may recommend that you avoid it.

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