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A man lives in a three-flight walk-up apartment building. He's approaching 65, and though he's been walking up these stairs for more than 30 years, he's found the stair climbing has recently become increasingly difficult. For the past year or so, he staggers to the top step, out of breath and very tired. One day, as he barely reaches the top step, he's clutched by a momentary tightening in his chest but realizes he's okay. He decides to do something about it right away. He enters his apartment, puts down his groceries, and calls his doctor. His doctor recommends a thorough physical and stress test. Worried about a heart attack, he makes an appointment immediately.

He has his physical and cardiac stress test the following week and is given a clean bill of health by the doctor. The doctor, though he deems the man "healthy," informs him he could be more fit. For precautionary measures, he gives the man a prescription for physical rehabilitation for six weeks to improve his cardiovascular system and endurance. At the rehab clinic, he's placed on a stationary bicycle and given a low- to moderate-intensity cycling regimen to follow. After six weeks of coming three times a week for an hour at a time, he's markedly improved his ability to cycle harder and faster. He feels much better. He now reaches the top step of his walk-up apartment building with much less difficulty and isn't nearly as out of breath as he was before. The doctor and his therapist conclude his cardiovascular system and endurance have improved to an acceptable level, and they both recommend that upon discharge from the clinical program that he join a local health club, buy a home cycle or treadmill, or walk outside. They want him to continue to exercise every day. This is a common scenario.

Question: Did the man's cardiovascular system actually improve? No. His leg and hip muscles were strengthened. What appears to be a cardiovascular improvement is nothing more than stronger legs and hips propelling him up the flights of steps. It isn't that his heart became stronger; it's just that now his heart doesn't have to work as hard to do the same task. If the man had performed proper strength training instead of cycling, he could have tripled his strength in half the time.

This story is an important and useful example of where strength training can have a major impact on one's quality of life. IBI

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