Due to shorter days, less physical activity, and abundant holiday meals, winter is a time when most adults experience increasing bodyweight and decreasing fitness. The usual reduction in aerobic exercise results in lower functional capacity of the cardiovascular system, and the typical reduction in strength exercise results in both muscle and bone loss. Although those of you who ski or chop wood regularly are exceptions, many residents of colder climates succumb to the human equivalent of hibernation as far as physical activity is concerned during the cold-weather months.
In addition to accelerating the aging process, lack of exercise leads to less desirable body composition (more fat and less muscle), increased risk of injury, and decreased athletic performance. On the other hand, brightening your winter days with some sensible exercise can reverse many degenerative conditions, reduce your injury potential, improve your physical appearance, and enhance your sports participation.
For example, strength exercise has been shown to provide the following benefits.
- Replace muscle (about 2.5 pounds in 8 weeks).
- Reduce fat (about 4.5 pounds in 8 weeks).
- Increase resting metabolism (about 7 percent in 12 weeks).
- Increase bone mineral density (up to 13 percent in 24 weeks).
- Improve glucose utilization (about 25 percent in 16 weeks).
- Speed up gastrointestinal transit (about 50 percent in 12 weeks).
- Lower resting blood pressure (about 4 mm Hg in 8 weeks).
- Eliminate or alleviate low back pain.
- Reduce arthritic pain.
- Reduce depression.
- Increase muscle strength (over 50 percent in 8 weeks).
- Increase golf club speed/driving power (about 6 percent in 8 weeks).
Endurance exercise also provides numerous benefits, with particular emphasis on the cardiovascular system. Consider the following physiological benefits that may be attained through regular aerobic activity.
- Heart becomes a stronger pump.
- Resting heart rate decreases.
- Resting blood pressure decreases.
- Circulatory system becomes more efficient.
- Blood volume increases.
- Red blood cell size and number increases.
- Oxygen transport capacity increases.
- Unwanted clotting potential decreases.
In addition, both strength and endurance exercise help people sleep better, eat better, digest better, feel more energetic, and eliminate unhealthy habits, such as smoking.
With all of these advantages, why don’t more men and women participate in an exercise program? The typical answer is lack of time, but this is rarely the real reason why people don’t exercise. My 26 years in the fitness profession have convinced me that the main reason most adults don’t exercise is lack of confidence.
Understandably, previously sedentary individuals generally feel uncomfortable initiating a home-based exercise program. Most inactive adults are well-aware that they do not possess the knowledge and skills to design a safe, productive and progressive training protocol on their own.
However, they are even more unlikely to pass through the doors of a fitness facility. For obvious reasons, people who consider themselves to be in poor physical condition may not want to surround themselves with people who seem to be in superb physical condition. Even when instructional staff are present for guidance and assistance, training next to other members who are lifting three times as much weight on the Nautilus machines or moving twice as fast on the treadmills can be disheartening.
One answer is to work with a competent personal trainer, either at home or in a well-equipped fitness facility. Unfortunately, the cost of personal exercise training may be prohibitive for many people. Fortunately, there is another alternative that has proven highly satisfactory for adults who desire careful instruction, close supervision, and a somewhat private training environment. Based largely on several years of research at the South Shore YMCA, many fitness facilities now offer small classes in a separate exercise area for beginning participants.
The program model we have developed is based on 6 class members with 2 instructors in a private exercise room. Each class session is less than an hour in length, with approximately 25 minutes of strength training (12 Nautilus machines) and 20 minutes of aerobic activity (treadmill walking, stationary cycling).
The following table presents findings from a few of our studies using the small group training model. The results were obtained from more than 1100 men and women who completed an 8-week program of regular exercise, 2 or 3 days per week.
|Excercise Class Program||Muscle Change||Fat Change||Blood Pressure Change||Club Speed Change|
|Seniors Group||+ 2 lbs.||– 4 lbs.||– 5 mm Hg.||not assessed|
|Weight Loss Group*||+ 3 lbs.||– 8 lbs.||– 4 mm Hg.||not assessed|
|Golfers Group**||+ 4 lbs.||– 4 lbs.||– 4 mm Hg.||+ 5 mph|
* Weight Loss Group received nutrition and diet information.
** Golfers group performed strength training and stretching exercise.
In addition to our work with adults, we have found the small class model equally effective for youth. We typically train 12 boys and girls with 4 instructors in our separate youth strength training room. The 8 to 12 year old program participants have averaged over 90 percent class attendance, more than 50 percent increase in overall muscle strength, and significant improvements in body composition.
Another benefit of initiating an exercise program in a small class context is the learning factor. After 8 weeks of instruction and supervision, more than 90 percent of the class participants have the competence and confidence to continue exercising on their own.
If you are an inactive individual who wants to start a sensible and successful exercise program, check out beginner classes at some of the fine fitness facilities in the South Shore area. You will find a variety of small group programs from which to choose. If you would like more information on strength training principles and procedures for seniors, adults, youth, and golfers, you are invited to attend my 75-minute slide presentation on Wednesday, January 7th at 6:00 p.m. at the South Shore YMCA. Please call my assistant, Susan Ramsden, at (617) 479-8500, extension 132 to register for this free information session.
Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is Fitness Research Director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA., and author of several books on fitness including Building Strength and Stamina, and his most recent publication, Strength Training Past 50.