Somewhere along the line, weight training picked up some negative stereotypes. When talking about weight lifters, many people throw out terms like “meat-head,” and think weight lifting is all about just getting the biggest muscles possible. However, weight training has many health benefits and can improve your physical and mental wellbeing regardless of gender or current fitness level.
Benefit #1: Maintain a healthy weight
Weight loss is often associated with high-intensity cardiovascular exercise, such as running, swimming, and cycling. However, one of the most effective methods for losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight is through strength training. As you gain muscle, your metabolism speeds up because muscle burns more calories at rest than fat does. If your New Year’s resolution was to lose weight, you may want to consider adding strength training into your fitness plan.
Benefit #2: Regulate blood sugar levels
When engaging in strength training, your muscles’ use glucose for energy during your workout. This is especially beneficial for those who are managing Type 2 diabetes and struggle to regulate their blood sugar levels. For those without Type 2 diabetes, lifting weights regularly is a great way to reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Benefit #3: Maintain strong bones
As people age, they begin to lose bone density. This can lead to osteoporosis later in life, which can cause back pain, loss of height, poor posture, and increased likelihood of breaking bones. When your muscles contract during a resistance exercise, a force is exerted on the bones attached to the muscle. This exertion on the bone stimulates the production of structural proteins, which strengthen bones. For example, a 2014 study published in the Journal of Family and Community Medicine found that twelve weeks of doing strength training with squats increased lower spine bone density by 2.9% and femur bone density by 4.9%.
Benefit #4: Increase balance and decrease risk of falls
Improved bone density isn’t the only benefit that strength training provides for older individuals. As you age, you also tend to lose muscle mass. This, as well as the decrease in bone density described earlier, increases the likelihood of falls and injuries for older individuals. Strength training can provide better balance through stronger legs, which simultaneously decreases the risk of a bad fall.
Benefit #5: Improve mental wellbeing
Following a strength training plan can drastically improve your mental wellbeing. Strength training has been shown to have a positive effect on sleep, mood and energy levels. Lifting weights prompts your body to release endorphins that decrease stress, help fight depression, and improve concentration. Additionally, following a strength training plan can be beneficial in increasing confidence and improving body image. A 2015 study in the Journal of Extension found that middle-aged and older women who engaged in strength training had improved body image and perceived physical appearance, regardless of aesthetic results.
How to get started
Whenever starting a new fitness routine, it is important to approach it in a safe way. If you are above the age of 40 or have a chronic condition and haven’t been recently active, consult a doctor before beginning strength training. It is a good idea to warm up with a walk or other aerobic activity, and stretch prior to strength training in order to decrease your risk of injury. Make sure you choose a weight that is right for you: one that you can complete 12 to 15 repetitions of an exercise with proper form, but will still tire out your muscles. During any strength training exercise, proper form is important in order to prevent injury. If you are unsure how to complete an exercise, consult a trainer or fitness specialist. Finally, build time into your fitness plan to allow your muscles to recover before working that muscle group again.