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Lifting Your Way to Weight Loss

If you've tried a dozen diets but the pounds always sneak back, you may be able to lose them for good by making strength-training a part of your weight-loss program.

Strength training is essential to weight control, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Here's why: Muscle is active tissue that consumes calories and has a higher metabolic rate, while fat uses very little energy, says the CDC.

As people lose muscle through aging or inactivity, their metabolism slows, so they gain fat, become more sedentary, lose more muscle and gain more fat—an unhealthy, repetitive cycle that impairs quality of life and leads to many health problems.

A healthy muscle-to-fat ratio promotes maintenance of weight loss. 

Restrictive dieting alone just prolongs the problem because you lose muscle along with fat. This slows down your metabolism and reduces your calorie needs. Soon, you have more fat and less muscle than before.

Strength training breaks the cycle by maintaining and/or replacing lost muscle tissue, which increases your metabolism. You burn more calories and fight fat even while you sleep.

Strength-training workouts also burn lots of calories. A half-hour session with weights can easily consume more calories than a comparable period of moderate cycling, brisk walking, or jogging. Plus, your body will continue to burn calories faster for up to two hours after a strength-training session.

Make sure that you talk to your health care provider before beginning any new exercise or strengthening program to be sure it's right for you, especially if you have heart disease or osteoporosis.

Count the benefits

Weight control is just one benefit of strength training. With a regular program, additional benefits may include:

  • Lose inches. Muscles are more dense than fat, so they take up less space.

  • Protect bone density. Strength training can maintain bone strength and increase bone-mineral density, helping to prevent osteoporosis. This is a very real problem for women as they age.

  • Prevent or reduce lower-back pain. Well-conditioned muscles are better able to support the spine and cushion it against stress.

  • Avoid injury. Stronger muscles guard against fatigue that can lead to injury.

  • Improved athletic performance. You'll be able to perform better and be less fatigued if your muscles are better conditioned.

  • Improved mood and quality of sleep. Strength training may provide improvements in depression.

Easy does it

You don't have to spend all day in a gym to benefit from strength training. Studies show you can see significant results with two or three half-hour sessions a week.

For starters, consider a routine of about 15 different exercises that work all major muscle groups. Do one set of 10 repetitions of each exercise.

Use slow, controlled movements that follow through the full range of motion for each exercise. Gradually increase the number of reps or add another set. When you can do 12 reps in good form, you're ready to increase the weight a little—but no more than 5 percent at a time. Check with a professional trainer to see how and when you should increase the weight and what should be the maximum weight you should use.

Check with your health care provider to see if strength training can help you reach your goals.