When it comes to physical activity, there are two things that humans are well suited for and especially good at because of our physiology: walking or running long distances, and carrying heavy things. Let’s talk about our aptitude for lifting heavy things first. For the vast majority of time, humans lived as hunter-gatherers. To gather food or material for shelter, we’d travel away from camp and then carry back what we found. Most of these loads were small (likely 10 to 20 pounds), but occasionally we would carry weights equal to half of our total body weight!

Why We Should Strength Train, Especially Women

Strength or resistance training is good for everyone, but women who strength train get a significantly higher boost in longevity than men. A recent study showed that women who resistance train regularly have a lower risk for heart disease (the number one cause of death in women) and are likely to have a better quality of life, compared to women who don’t. Strength training is also good for bones, joints, and cognitive health. Another recent study shows that “high levels of lean muscle might help protect against Alzheimer’s disease, where women are more prone to developing the disease”.

Strength training can be intimidating, especially in a gym where sweaty, grunting men often take over the free weight lifting area. This is one reason why women tend to focus on their cardio fitness, such as by running or participating in group classes like Zumba. Women also may believe that lifting weights will make them look too muscular or bulky. This is mainly a myth. Unless you’re a bodybuilder, nobody should worry about getting too muscular. In fact, you should worry more about not improving muscle strength as you age. As mentioned above “aging causes muscles to lose mass, bone density to thin and joints to stiffen”. This can affect our balance, coordination and strength, making us susceptible to falls, the leading cause of injury death after age 65. And if you’re always choosing light weights, think again. A study from Australia, appropriately titled LIFTMOR, found that “heavier exercise loads are more effective for increasing bone mineral density than lighter loads”. Watch this video to learn more about the study and be inspired!

There are many ways to incorporate resistance training into your life. Any activity that requires your muscles to work against a weight or gravity counts as strength training. This includes the use of resistance bands, dumbbells, kettlebells, and medicine balls, as well as your own body weight. If this sounds unpleasant or intimidating, try our Functional Fitness classes, where we incorporate resistance training in a safe and effective way. This class is appropriate for most fitness levels, but if you want more advanced strength and conditioning training with personalized coaching, our new Functional Strength and Conditioning class can help you achieve your goals.

Why We Should Improve Aerobic Fitness

Man running along a trail in a wooded area

Let’s now talk about cardiorespiratory or aerobic fitness, which means “how efficiently your body can deliver oxygen to your muscles, and how efficiently your muscles can extract that oxygen”. There are different ways to train your cardiorespiratory system. One way is by sustained or long-distance aerobic exercise (with oxygen) which can be done via running, biking, swimming, hiking, and even walking if done for distance and at a moderate pace.

Another way to train your cardiorespiratory system involves anaerobic exercise (without oxygen), which is often associated with high-intensity interval training (HIIT). These are several rounds of short, 20-second, up-tempo exercises, usually requiring little or no equipment (e.g. squat jumps, jumping jacks, jogging, or skipping in place), followed by brief periods of rest. The objective is to increase your breathing and heart rate quickly, in order to deliver substantial fitness results in a short period of time, usually 30 minutes or less. Here is more information as well as a beginner HIIT workout.

Another important aspect of aerobic fitness that’s often overlooked are exercises that involve moving in multiple directions — think dance, tennis, pickleball, or our Functional Fitness classes. Surprising your body with new movements, in different directions, has a better, more efficient effect in building bone than doing hours and hours of repetitive activity, which can lead to overuse injuries. Multi-directional movement is also good for your brain.

The Human Body Demands Work

It’s not the mode of strength or aerobic training that matters. “What matters most is the physiological demand you put on your body during the exercise.” In other words, when you expose your body to exercise that “pushes the limits of your physiology”, that’s where improvements in strength and cardiorespiratory fitness are made. Exerting yourself for even a few minutes several times a week should soon improve your fitness and help you age well. Think of adding a few flights of stairs or a short hill to your next walk because according to longevity scientist David Sinclair, The worst thing you can do [for aging] is to never get out of breath!

The bottom line is, if we don’t use it, we lose it. This helps explain why astronauts’ bones weaken in space and why we lose muscle strength and aerobic fitness as we age if we lead sedentary lives. Our bodies respond to gravitational forces by getting stronger, and the lack of force will weaken them. While any type of physical activity is better than none, movements that require our bodies to support their own weight are especially effective for bone and muscle strength. Without the pull of gravity on our musculoskeletal system, our bodies erode and our physical potential and capabilities slip away.

Finally, improving your fitness doesn’t need to be unpleasant. It can instead be brief, informal, and even fun. Check out the video below and you’ll see some resemblance to our Functional Fitness classes. OK, it’s time to stand up and start movin’ and groovin’ so that you’re huffin’ and puffin’.