By DR. VICTOR S. SIERPINA

Do you know the health benefits of resistance training? The main types of resistance exercise are weight training, resistance bands or tubes, using your body weight in exercise movements and isometrics. Aerobic exercise targets conditioning of heart, lungs and circulation. Resistance exercise focuses on strengthening, enlarging and/or shaping our muscles by stressing them beyond their usual activities and allowing them to repair and grow.

Like many young guys, I started lifting weights while still in grade school. As the smallest kid in my class, I wanted to get stronger, bigger and more buffed to attract girls and repel bullies. While I never got the Charles Atlas physique I yearned for, weight and resistance training has helped me develop skills in sports like wrestling, tennis, swimming, racquet ball, skiing, cycling and others. Nobody even tries to kick sand in my face anymore!

Recent research has shown that diabetics especially gain much benefit from resistance training. Muscles utilize glucose at a high level, more than even the highly glucose dependent but much smaller brain. As a result, improving muscle mass through resistance exercises helps reduce fat, inflammation, insulin resistance as well as burning more sugar, even at rest.

Another group that really benefits from muscle building resistance training is the older adult. As we age, there is a tendency to lose muscle mass through a process called sarcopenia. Because of changes in hormones, circulation, lack of use and other factors, older patients lose muscle mass. Along with this they develop weakness, balance problems, loss of ability to get up from a fall and experience increased trouble with simple activities of daily living like lifting, carrying, climbing and so on. Remaining active and independent into our later years is much easier if we keep our muscles strong through resistance-type exercises. Resistance training also improves bone density.

Resistance bands are regularly recommended by physical and occupational therapists for patients as part of rehabilitation, strengthening, flexibility, balance and more. These bands come in different colors representing levels of resistance and have the benefit of being cheap, portable, light and easy to use. I found them highly useful during recovery from shoulder and knee injuries.

Most experts recommend resistance exercise a couple times a week. It blends well and rounds out your aerobic and flexibility exercise program. Many people don’t think of resistance training as they plan their exercise program. Women in particular are less familiar with this form of exercise and often mistakenly think of it as something for muscle bound male jocks. However, women athletes include weight and resistance training in their fitness programs to keep at the top of their game. My health coach has helped me reduce post-workout soreness by stretching both before and after resistance work. And remember to start off slow, then ease off to keep yourself going without sprains.

To improve your health this year, keep moving and consider adding resistance training. If you are unfamiliar with how to get started, ask your physical therapist, health coach or trainer to get you started safely and to maximize benefits. Some of the basics are at: http://www.emedicinehealth.com/strength_training/article_em.htm.

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.