If you knew that a certain type of exercise could benefit your heart, improve your balance, strengthen your bones, and help you lose weight all while making you look and feel better, wouldn't you get started right away? Well, studies show that strength training can provide all those benefits and more.
Contrary to popular belief, strength training exercises from weight lifting to bodyweight movements like squats, push-ups, and planks will not make you bulk up. Instead, they offer a slew of other benefits — both physically, and mentally. In fact, numerous studies have shown that strength training can play a role in slowing bone loss, and several show it can even build bone. This is tremendously useful to help offset age-related declines in bone mass.
According to the American Heart Association, strength training is physical activity designed to improve muscular fitness by exercising a specific muscle or muscle group against external resistance, including free-weights, weight machines, or your own body weight. It is an important part of your overall fitness and benefits people of all ages, particularly those with health issues such as obesity, arthritis, or a heart condition. So, besides the well-touted (and frequently Instagrammed) benefit of adding tone and definition to your muscles, how does strength training help? Here are just a few of the many ways:
1. Makes you stronger
This benefit is the obvious one, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. Strength training not only increases our muscle strength, but also our bone strength, helping minimize the risk of fracture. In addition, strength training works the range of motion of our joints. All of these things help us to stay independent and perform activities of daily living, such as house and yard work, playing with grandchildren, or caring for a pet.
2. Protects bone health and muscle mass
At around age 30 we start losing as much as 3 to 5 percent of lean muscle mass per year thanks to aging. Just 30 minutes twice a week of high intensity resistance and impact training has been shown to improve functional performance, as well as bone density, structure, and strength in postmenopausal women with low bone mass.
3. Helps you develop better body mechanics.
Strength training also benefits your balance, coordination, and posture. One study showed that in older people who are at higher risk of falling (and causing a lot of damage) because of worse physical functioning, strength training reduced risk of falling by 40 percent compared with individuals who did not do strength-training exercise.
4. Helps with chronic disease management
Studies have documented the many wellness benefits of strength training, including helping people with chronic diseases manage their conditions. A few examples are:
Aerobic exercise such as walking, running, and cycling is well-known as a way to help increase the number of calories you burn in a day, thereby shedding extra pounds. But strength training helps, too (even if you’re not burning a huge number of calories during the workout). Strength training is helpful for weight loss, because it helps increase your resting metabolism (meaning the rate at which your body burns calories when you’re just going about your day, not exercising).
6. Boosts energy levels and improves your mood
Strength training will elevate your level of endorphins (natural opiates produced by the brain), which lift energy levels and improve mood. In addition, research that’s looked at neurochemical and neuromuscular responses to such workouts offers further evidence it has a positive effect on the brain.
There’s also evidence that strength training may also help you sleep better.
7. Strength training has cardiovascular health benefits
Along with aerobic exercise, muscle-strengthening physical activity helps improve blood pressure. The recommendation is doing muscle-strengthening activities twice weekly plus 150 minutes of weekly moderate-intensity activity, at a minimum, to help reduce hypertension and lower risk of heart disease.
If you’re looking to add strength or resistance training to your routine, you don't have to jump into a CrossFit class to see such major health benefits. Even relatively simple exercises such as a sit-to-stand or wall push-ups can go a long way, particularly if you're just starting to get back into shape. If you're no stranger to strength training, though, try taking it up a notch. Interval training, where you alternate between, say, 40 seconds of weight lifting and 20 seconds of rest, has been shown to be particularly effective. So, what are you waiting for? Start taking steps (even if they're small ones!) toward your goal today, and you'll start seeing benefits in no time!