Strength-training not only builds your physique, it can also help boost mood, thinking and overall cardiovascular health. But before starting a strength-training regimen, as with any other exercise program, it may be best to have a medical exam to rule out any possible underlying health problem or any existing conditions that could be aggravated.
A simple strength-training program can take as little time as 15 minutes, twice a week. The payoff is impressive: By lifting weights, you'll help prevent age-related decline in muscle mass (which tends to start at around age 35), prevent osteoporosis (thinning of the bones), increase your rate of fat loss and enhance your mobility, making it easier to participate in aerobic exercise and other sports.
A note about the weight of your weights: If you're working out in a gym, ask a certified personal trainer for advice on how much you should lift. In general, your weights should be heavy enough so that you have some difficulty completing the final one or two repetitions in your set.
Below are some exercises that many experts believe should be part of a regular strength-training program.
Start your strength program with these four exercises (two for the lower body and two for the upper body):
Dumbbell squat (lower body) — or leg extension machine
Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand with your feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart, and your arms down at your sides. Keeping your head up and your back straight, slowly lower your hips until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Then return slowly to starting position, still keeping your head up and back straight. Repeat eight to 12 times.
Dumbbell lunge (lower body)— or leg curl machine
Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand, with your arms down at your sides, and your feet slightly less than shoulder-width apart. Looking directly ahead and keeping your left leg straight, take a long step forward with your right leg, bending your right knee so that the knee is lined up directly above your right ankle. Distributing your weight equally on both legs, bend your back leg until your knee is almost touching the ground. Then push slowly off your right foot, stepping back into your starting position. Repeat eight to 12 times, then switch legs and repeat.
Dumbbell chest press (upper body) — or chest press machine
Lie face up on a flat bench, with your feet flat on the floor, and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Extend your arms and then lower them to starting position against your chest (your elbows should point out to either side). Slowly push the dumbbells upward together, until your arms are fully extended and the dumbbells are directly above your chest. Repeat eight to 12 times.
Dumbbell row (upper body) — or lat pull-down machine
Holding a dumbbell in your right hand, rest your left knee on a low bench, and place your left (free) hand down flat in front of your knee on the same bench. You should be leaning forward so that your back is horizontal, and your right foot should be flat on the floor, with the right knee slightly bent. Lower the dumbbell so that your right arm is fully extended and slowly pull it to your chest, then return slowly to starting position. Do eight to 12 repetitions, then switch sides and repeat.
Level 2 (four additional strength exercises)
Dumbbell curl (upper body) — or bicep machine
Holding a dumbbell in each hand, stand comfortably with your arms down at your sides. Slowly bend your arms, curling both dumbbells up to your shoulders, then slowly return to starting position. Keep your head up and your eyes looking straight ahead at all times.
Dumbbell triceps extension (upper body) — or triceps machine
Holding a dumbbell in your right hand, place your left knee on a low bench, and place your left hand in front of it, flat on the bench. Hold the dumbbell with your palm facing inward and your right elbow slightly bent so the weight is at hip level. Keeping your right shoulder still, slowly straighten your right arm, then slowly return to starting position. Repeat eight to 12 times, then switch arms and repeat.
Dumbbell shoulder press (upper body) — or overhead press machine
Holding a dumbbell in each hand, sit on a bench or a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Position both dumbbells at shoulder level, with your elbows pointing downward. Then slowly press both dumbbells upward, until your arms are straight but not locked (think of squeezing your shoulder blades together as you lift). Then return slowly to starting position. Repeat eight to 12 times.
Dumbbell deltoid raise (upper body) — or lateral raise machine
Standing comfortably with a dumbbell in each hand, hold your arms at your sides so that your elbows are bent at right angles, with your palms facing downward. Slowly raise both dumbbells until your upper arms are parallel to the ground. Then slowly lower your arms to starting position. Repeat eight to 12 times.