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Strength and Resistance Training

You don’t have to be a gym rat to tone your muscles and feel strong. With a few efficient moves under your belt, you can keep your health in check and whip that body into shape in no time.


Strong muscles = strong bones

Normal aging is associated with a decline in muscle mass between 5 and 10 percent each decade after age 50 [i].  If nothing is done to replace the lost muscle mass, it can get replaced with fat. Strength and resistance training, however, can help reverse this downward trend and promote joint flexibility, increase bone density and better manage weight [ii].

Strength and resistance training should be part of one’s regular fitness routine, regardless of age. Strong muscles support strong bones, and toned muscles can also help burn off excess calories. Adults with the greatest muscle mass and muscle strength tend to have the strongest bones due to greater muscle contractions during daily activities, such as carrying home heavy groceries, reaching for something on a high shelf or lifting up a child or grandchild.


Strength and resistance training and the cancer patient

For the cancer patient, strength training is especially important, as many of the side effects of treatment affect the muscles and bones. Patients can experience muscle wasting or atrophy, reduced physical functioning, unfavorable changes in body composition, and/or depression and fatigue. Those side effects, coupled with a loss of appetite and a decrease in physical activity, can exacerbate muscular wasting and overall body strength [i].

A few short bouts of resistance training a few times a week can make a huge difference in recovery and quality of life.


Try weights, resistance bands or household objects

Resistance training can be accomplished with traditional free weights and dumbbells, weight machines, body weight, elastic tubing, medicine balls, or even common household products like soup cans or water bottles. The choice to incorporate a certain type of resistance depends on level of physical fitness, how familiar a person is with specific exercise movements and individual goals [iii].

To get started, check out the short video that The American Institute for Cancer Research [iv] put together, modeling various exercises to do with resistance bands. Take a few minutes during the commercial breaks of your favorite television show or a few minutes after waking up in the morning to practice these exercises.

Not in the mood to use bands, weights or cans? Use your own body weight as resistance. Try doing push ups against a wall, calf raises while holding onto a chair, or planking on the floor for 30 seconds (or as long as you can hold). Add in a few squats and lunges for variety.


How much, how often?

Adults should strength train for a minimum of two non-consecutive days each week, with one set of 8 to 12 repetitions for healthy adults or 10 to 15 repetitions for older and frail individuals, according to The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) [iii].

Strength and resistance training can “stress” the muscles in a good way. As the muscles sense the “stress” of resistance, they begin to adapt and then grow stronger, similar to how aerobic conditioning (cardio) strengthens the heart [ii]. Be sure to rest the muscles by strength training on non-consecutive days.

Think of the difference that a few minutes on just two days of the week can make on your life and your health.

Be sure to speak with your physician and heath care team before starting any new exercise regimen or making changes to your current routine.


[i] Strasser B, Steindorf K, Wiskemann J, Ulrich CM. Impact of resistance training in cancer survivors. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013 Nov; 45(11): 2080-90. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31829a3b63
[ii] Weight Training: It’s All About Technique. Mayo Clinic Website. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/fitness/in-depth/weight-training/art-20047116 Published November 13, 2012. Accessed January 8, 2015.
[iii] Esco MR. Resistance Training for Health and Fitness. American College of Sports Medicine. 2013. http://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/resistance-training.pdf Accessed January 8, 2015.
[iv] Strength Training: Important for Health and Survivorship. American Institute for Cancer Research Website. http://www.aicr.org/enews/november_2013/enews-strength-training.html Published November 7, 2013. Accessed January 8, 2015.


Stephanie Forsythe MS, RDN, CNSC, CDN

Stephanie Forsythe MS, RDN, CNSC, CDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who works as a Clinical Dietitian and Nutrition Coordinator at a hospital in Brooklyn. She helps patients meet their nutritional needs during their stay in the intensive care units. Aside from developing recipe and blog content for Savor Health, Stephanie also has worked as pastry cook in California and New York City. Stephanie received her undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley and her Master of Science in Nutrition Education from Teachers College Columbia University. She completed a Dietetic Internship and training through Teachers College.


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