Who would think that walking the dog would not only encourage you to take a walk, but also to go to the gym? As the gym is on our evening walk, we’ve started stopping there long enough for me to do a bare minimum weight training routine two or three times a week. My co-exercisers are quite pleased to see him, and he’s thrilled to receive their attention. Seriously, his tail wags almost as much as we walk up to the entrance as when he’s successfully stalking field mice.

I detest weight training, so I’m always happy to find another strategy to coerce myself into doing it. I’d far rather chill out during a run, putter around with the dog, dig up dirt, or downward dog my way through an hour of slightly weird music. However, one of the aspects about working in a research center focusing on the aging process is that you can’t escape… aging. The aging process has traditionally thought to include the loss of bone mass and muscle mass/strength. Fortunately, some sensible people decided to actually test that. While aerobic exercise has major cardiovascular benefits, resistance training is much more effective at retaining that endangered bone and muscle strength. There are additional benefits, but preventing osteoporosis and maintaining muscle mass are the reasons I suffer through the reps.

Working major muscle groups that help with daily activities is especially important. A simple test often given to help determine frailty includes crossing your arms over your chest and standing up from a chair five times. The slower you go, the more likely it is you would fall. Maintaining that leg strength helps people be independent later in life and reduce likelihood of injury. Even in folks in their 90s, strength training can increase muscle mass and… surprise!…strength. Since we mostly start to lose bone in our 20s, and muscle mass in our 30s, I started to attempt to incorporate strength training regularly by my mid-twenties and plan to do so for the rest of my life.

There are many options for strength training: using your own body weight (think push-ups, lunges, planks, and squats), using traditional weight machines (leg press, etc), resistance bands, and free weights like dumbbells, soup cans, or weighted balls. Your neighborhood may even have one of those public tracks/paths with stations for doing different exercises. I recommend seeking advice, in person, from an expert on the correct form for whichever exercises you think are suitable for your life. A physical therapist is probably preferable if you have any previous injuries or limitations, while a personal trainer is probably fine for the average Jane. Do ask about their training, though, as proper form is essential for preventing injuries.

At one point, I made a rule that I could only watch TV if I was doing weight training at the same time. Weight training happened on Tuesdays (NCIS) and Thursdays (Grey’s Anatomy) quite regularly during those days. Other people prefer a class, using a personal trainer, an outdoor routine, meeting a friend, or setting up a corner in the basement with free weights and/or a compact hone gym. I’ve tried those, but honestly, the TV (when I had TV) and walking the dog are the two most effective approaches. Bailey’s helping me these days, by making it a part of our evening routine. (Good dog!)

He’s pretty popular at the gym, both as a topic of conversation and as a handy head to pet. He stays outside, of course, tucked in a handy corner between a picnic table and a soda machine (irony, no?) while I slog my way through leg presses, funny torture moves, and even the occasional batch of shoulder presses or bicep curls. Staff slip out to scratch behind his ears, middle-aged ladies pop off the elliptical to rub a chest, and tough teenagers ease off the superman weights long enough to show the pretty girls they like dogs, especially big dogs who wag their tails.

Now, caveats: there’s good place to loop his leash where he is in the shade and out of both people and vehicle traffic. I checked with management before our trial run, and he is visible from the inside of the gym. In addition, he only comes for quick trips, not for the once weekly yoga class, and if the very popular Zumba class is leaving, I keep him company. His manners aren’t perfect, but they’re pretty good.

P.S. I’m not sharing exactly what I do, because it changes. Often. I get bored, and changing can help keep your muscles challenged.