When you think about lifting weights, sweat-drenched bodybuilders with bulky muscles and a chiseled set of abs come to mind. However, scientists say that resistance training offers incredible benefits for everyday people of all shapes and sizes hoping to have better health too. Strength training helps the body to perform daily tasks, prevent injury and improve overall health, and consists of exercises such as squats, push-ups and bench press.
Just like your car, the body requires regular maintenance in order to reach optimal health. It’s vital to build and maintain strong muscles due to the risk of bone and muscle loss increasing with age. While aerobic exercise like running, rowing or swimming strengthens the heart and lungs, lifting weights helps increase stamina and protects the bones and joints from injury.
Increasing stamina and the strength of bones and joints aren’t the only benefits of strength training; there are many other ways it can give you an edge later on in life, including a myriad of physical and mental benefits, including reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Here’s why resistance training is amazing for your health:
It reduces stress
Research shows that while exercise initially spikes the stress response in the body, people experience lower levels of stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine after bouts of physical activity.
Exercise also releases endorphins, which can reduce stress and improve mood. This is why even if you go into the gym in a bad mood, when you lift some heavy circles or dumbbells, you will always come out in a better mood!
A study has shown that weight lifting increases the production and secretion of norepinephrine, a chemical that significantly improves the ability of your brain to cope with stress.
It keeps bones strong and healthy
As you age, you begin to lose bone mass. In fact, you start to lose bone mass after 30, and if you don’t do anything about it, it puts you at risk of developing osteoporosis. This makes your bones fragile, and increases the chances that one day if you have a fall, you will end up fracturing a hip or vertebrae.
Research has shown that in a study of elderly women with decreased muscle strength, those who participated in a 16-week resistance training program increased their bone mineral density.
Therefore, by lifting weights regularly, you can increase bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis as well as fracturing a bone further down the line.
It boosts metabolism
Inactive adults experience a 3% to 8% loss of muscle mass per decade, accompanied by resting metabolic rate reduction and fat accumulation. Research has shown that ten weeks of resistance training may increase resting metabolic rate by 7%, and reduce fat weight by 1.8 kg.
Resting metabolic rate decreases with age, but strength training can help you increase your metabolism and therefore help you burn more calories, both whilst at rest and during exercise. This in turn can lead to you being able to manage your weight or lose weight.
Improves strength and endurance
As you strength train, your body grows stronger and the effects of this will positively affect other aspects of your physical activity. Lifting weights enhances any kind of sport or performance that requires high-load speed and strength- if you’re able to squat heavy with a barbell on your back, you’ll naturally be able to jump higher and run faster.
We have type I (slow twitch) and type II (fast twitch) muscle fibers. Your fast-twitch fibers play a major role in generating power, which is huge for obtaining peak performance, but also what helps you get up off the couch. As we age, the type II muscle fibers degenerate much faster; muscle strength can dwindle, and can lead to the development of sarcopenia. Studies have shown that the size of type II muscle fibers can be reduced by up to 50% in those with sarcopenia. This is why elderly people can have trouble standing up.
It is important to lift weights as it slows down the degeneration of muscle fibers. Having stronger muscles can prevent you from having limited mobility and increased fall risk in the future. Research has shown that older adults with low muscle strength have a 2.6-fold greater risk of severe mobility limitation, 4.3-fold greater risk for slow gait speed, and 2.1-fold greater risk of mortality compared to older adults with high muscle strength.
It boosts confidence
Lifting weights can boost your confidence and self-esteem. Whenever you lift heavier than before and hit a new PB, this makes you feel a sense of achievement. As well as this, the visible changes that you see in your body as you lift weights, such as gaining muscle definition or losing body fat will also boost your confidence.
With your body changing and the closer you get to achieving your weightlifting goals, your self-perception improves, which gives you a sense of accomplishment. Not only will you be proud of your efforts and hard work, but you will also be able to impress others.
Furthermore, a study of young people found that resistance training has a positive effect on perceived strength and physical self-worth. This shows that strength training has positive effects upon the confidence of people of all ages.
Helps manage chronic conditions
Strength training can help manage signs and symptoms of chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and obesity.
A recent analysis of the Women’s Health study showed that women engaging in 60-120 minutes of resistance training per week had reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease by 22%. In the same analysis, it was found that people who did three total body weight workouts per week for 2 months decreased their diastolic blood pressure by an average of 8 points. This is enough to reduce the risk of a stroke by 40% and risk of a heart attack by 15%.
Lifting weights may be one of the best ways to prevent diabetes. In an analysis of over 30,000 men between the ages of 45 - 75 years demonstrated that men engaging in at least 150 minutes per week of resistance training had a 34% lower risk of developing diabetes over an 18-year period. In the same study, older adults participating in weight training for 24 weeks exhibited an over 50% increase in mitochondrial oxidative capacity, which is likely linked to the training-induced improvements in insulin sensitivity.
Helps you sleep better
A lack of quality sleep has been linked to weight gain, a worsened immune system and even mental health issues. Exercise could be a healthy, safe, inexpensive and simple means of improving sleep. According to the European Journal of Applied Physiology, resistance training in particular seems to be effective at improving sleep.
A study discovered that individuals who slept best tended to engage in higher amounts of leisure activity, whilst those who did not exercise at all tended to sleep worse. The same study suggested that exercise may directly be responsible for sleep quality improvement, and that engaging in physical activity increases cardiorespiratory fitness and thus will improve sleep disorders including sleep apnea and insomnia.
Improves mental health
It’s no secret that exercising produces endorphins, which leaves you with a positive mood and overall enhanced sense of well-being after every workout. Endorphins also help to release pain and induce pleasure, regulating your mood. Studies have shown that resistance training significantly reduces depressive symptoms among adults regardless of health status.
Another study found that exercising 20 minutes per day, 3 times per week at a moderate intensity is sufficient to significantly reduce symptoms of depression. In the same study, depressed adults who took part in a fitness program displayed significantly greater improvements in depression and anxiety than those in the control group after 12 weeks of training.
A significant body of work showed that exercise alleviates negative mood states and enhances positive mood states in humans. Additionally, these studies have shown that acute exercise, such as resistance training, helps to relieve symptoms associated with mood and psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder.
When done properly, lifting weights is considered a safe form of exercise when done properly. However, it is vital to nail proper form and to adhere to safety guidelines to maximize the benefits of strength training whilst minimizing potential risks and injuries.
Before beginning a strength training routine, make sure to consult your healthcare provider to ensure it is safe for you.
By Shannon Gaskell