Who needs strength training?

Farm Forum

“Did you notice the amount of weight on the machine?” my husband asked. I was trying to push the handles on the weight machine forward. I would have had equal success moving a wall.

I had plopped myself onto the seat of the weight machine without looking at the settings. I knew better. Starting with too much weight can cause injuries, but I was a bit too enthusiastic.

The machine was designed to engage the muscles in my upper arms. Evidently, I had followed a strong person because the machine was set at 100 pounds for each arm.

After my brief attempt on the first machine, my arms felt as floppy as those of a Raggedy Ann doll. If I had been successful in moving the weight, my stretched-out arms might have resembled a “Stretch Armstrong” doll.

If you are too young or old to remember this long-limbed action figure doll, try Googling the image. My knuckles might have been grazing the floor.

Why did I have this renewed interest in strength training? I recently attended an interesting workshop about “sarcopenia,” which is the loss of muscle strength as we get older. The main treatment for sarcopenia is, you guessed it, exercise, especially resistance exercise.

Resistance exercise usually involves lifting or pushing weights with the intent of strengthening muscles.

The workshop spurred my interest in stopping at the weight machines instead of proceeding to the treadmills and bikes at the fitness club.

I didn’t give up on “machine No. 1,” but I moved the weights down to 50 pounds. I figured I should be half as strong as the person who preceded me. Nope.

I still could not push the handles forward. I do not give up easily, so I kept reducing the weights to 40, 30 and then 20 pounds. Much to my chagrin, I could move only 20 pounds of weight forward with each of my arms.

I needed to experience some success, so I moved to the lower-body weight machines. I planned to work on my arms next time. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

“You might want to start with a weight lower than 80 pounds,” my husband commented as he seated himself at the machine and began reducing the weight.

“I just finished 20 repetitions on that machine,” I announced with a not-too-subtle smirk. I avoided adding “that was easy peasy” to my commentary, but I noticed he did not reduce the amount of weight on the machine.

Walking and riding bike has paid off with my strong leg muscles. Because our three kids are beyond the carrying stage, I haven’t been lifting anything very heavy in quite a while, except for bags of groceries, our three 16-pound dachshunds and an occasional chair.

I need to be lifting weights regularly. As we get older, our muscles will lose strength and mass unless we take some action.

According to published research, men and women lose muscle mass beginning in their 30s. As we lose muscle mass, we may feel less energetic and our bone density may decrease. Our metabolic rate may slow, so we need fewer calories to fuel our remaining muscles. If we keep eating the same amount of food, we can gain weight and wonder why that is happening.

On the other hand, by strengthening our muscles, we can reduce body fat and maintain or potentially reduce our blood pressure. With strong muscles, we can reduce the risk of falling and be able to handle the tasks of our day-to-day life independently as we grow older.

If that sounds appealing, consider embarking on a strength training regimen. My husband and I agreed to work on this effort together. According to the National Institute on Aging, these are some tips to start a weight-training program.

• Check with your health-care provider before beginning a strength training program, especially if you have back or hip issues.

• Join a class to get some training, employ a personal trainer, or at least read articles and/or watch DVDs or online demonstrations.

• Start with light weights and gradually increase the amount of weight. You can use gym equipment or weights in your house, or even 1- or 2-pound cans of food. If you cannot lift or push the weight more than eight times in a row, you should reduce the amount of weight.

• Try to do strength exercises at least twice a week and build your endurance to 30 minutes of strength training at a time.

• Avoid exercising the same group of muscles two days in a row. For example work your upper body one day and your lower body the next day. This pattern allows your muscles to recover.

Check out the NDSU Extension Service’s “Nourishing Boomers and Beyond” website at and then click on “muscles.” We have linked to websites with picture-based workbooks and videos that show you how to do many different exercises. We also have recipes and nutrition handouts to help you become stronger and potentially healthier.

Nourish your muscles with lean protein and other nutrients. Here’s a delicious recipe courtesy of the North Dakota Beef Commission.

Rock and Roll Beef Wraps

1 pound ground beef (93 percent lean or leaner)

1 c. water

1/3 c. uncooked quinoa

2 Tbsp. dry ranch dressing mix

1/4 tsp. black pepper

2 c. packaged broccoli or coleslaw mix

4 medium whole-grain or spinach tortillas (7- to 8-inch diameter)

Note: You can find quinoa with grain foods, such as rice, or in the specialty foods section of many grocery stores.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Add ground beef; cook eight to 10 minutes, breaking into 1/2-inch crumbles and stirring occasionally. Remove drippings. Stir in water, quinoa, ranch dressing mix and pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 10 to 15 minutes or until quinoa is tender. Stir in slaw; cook, uncovered, three to five minutes or until slaw is crisp-tender, stirring occasionally. Divide beef mixture evenly among tortillas; garnish with toppings, as desired. Fold over sides of tortillas and roll up to enclose filling.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 418 calories, 12 grams (g) of fat, 31 g of protein, 41 g of carbohydrate, 7 g of fiber and 695 milligrams of sodium.