Friday, December 12, 2014

Building Strength - The First Step to Staying Active and Healthy

Here's an article I wrote for the November 22, 2014 issue of The Sounds, a local Chicago newspaper.

In my last article, I mentioned several different aspects of fitness. While they are all important, some are more essential than others these days. As a doctor, the most common fitness deficiency I have observed is inadequate and/or unbalanced strength. I see this across the board in people of all ages. Younger people commonly develop chronic back and joint pain from poor posture or injuries. Many older people live a lower quality of life due to their inability to move around safely and independently. Unfortunately, many end up in the hospital after falling and sustaining life-threatening injuries.

Why is strength so important? Strength is the foundation of all movement, and movement is essential to health. The less strength you have, the harder it is to move around, which makes you less inclined to be active. As a result, your muscles become even weaker. This vicious cycle continues and before you know it, you are out-of-shape and suffering from various pains and health conditions.

Being strong isn’t about being bigger, looking ripped, or being able to lift heavy weights. It’s about making activities easier for yourself so that you don’t strain your body as much. This includes your heart and muscles as well as joints, ligaments and tendons. Strong, balanced muscles can help improve body posture, decrease the risk of injury, and reduce or even eliminate certain kinds of back and joint pain.

Fortunately, strength can be the easiest and least time-consuming aspect of fitness to build. Contrary to common belief, building strength doesn’t require going to the gym and lifting weights for hours. When your muscles are exposed to loads greater than they are accustomed to, even for short periods of time, they respond by growing stronger. This response occurs whether the load is from gym weights, heavy bags of groceries, or just your own body weight. In fact, you can build significant strength by training appropriately in as little as one minute a day, without any special equipment.

Try the following exercise from my One Minute Workout. Using a stable chair, hold the “Tuck Sit Press” position shown below for as long as you can. Do your best to lift your feet off the ground. If you can’t, then let your feet touch the ground lightly but minimize the amount of weight placed on them. This is called a “Rising Chair Press”.

Count or use a clock to time yourself. Stop when you get tired or when 60 seconds is up, whichever comes first. You should feel the muscles in your arms, chest, upper back, abs, and hip flexors strongly engaged during this exercise.

Tuck Sit Press - One Minute Workout
Tuck Sit Press

Tip: If you have a chair with solid armrests, it may be easier to use those as supports. You can also use two chairs placed shoulder-width apart, putting one hand on each chair seat.

Whether you finished a whole minute or not, chances are your abs started burning or your arms started shaking while doing the above exercise. That’s proof that your muscles were getting an intense workout. In just those few seconds, you blasted your chest, shoulders, arms, back, abs and hip flexors simultaneously. That’s almost your whole body! This is an example of how you can build significant strength without spending much time.

To maximize results, finish your One Minute Workout for the day by repeating this exercise throughout the day until you accumulate a total of 60 seconds. Do this exercise daily, push yourself a little longer each time, and you’ll grow stronger and feel better.


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