Aerobic exercise is what most people associate with weight loss and improved health. However, strength training is an activity that can make you fit, improve your cardiovascular system, help you lose weight, and make you look better at the same time. In fact, it has a place of its own in just about anyone’s exercise plan.
1. It helps you lose weight more easily
Since muscle is active tissue (unlike fat, which is inert), it requires energy to maintain. The more muscle you have, the more you can eat without gaining weight. Strength training can provide up to a 15% increase in metabolic rate, which is helpful for weight loss and long-term weight control.
For every additional pound of muscle you gain, your body will burn about 50 more calories each day. A study by Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., Fitness Director of Quincy College, and South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts, showed that a woman who strength trains two or three times a week for eight weeks gains 1.75 lbs of muscle and loses 3.5 lbs of fat. Women don’t get pronounced muscle appearance unless they’re on testosterone, or something illicit. (And many men find it difficult enough when they want to).
And John Hopkins researchers found that while aerobic exercise burns more calories at the time you are exercising, your metabolism returns to normal about 30 minutes after you finish your workout. Individuals who perform strength training, however, elevate their metabolisms (burn more calories) for two hours after their workouts end.
2. It preserves muscle mass during weight loss
According to a University of Michigan research study, at least 25% to 30% of weight lost by dieting alone is not fat but lean tissue, muscle, bone and water. However, strength training helps dieters preserve muscle mass while still losing weight.
3. It speeds up your metabolism
Starting in their twenties, most people (especially women) lose half a pound of muscle every year if they aren’t strength training to preserve it. After age 60, this rate of loss doubles. But regular strength training can preserve muscle throughout the lifespan, and rebuild the muscle lost.
4. It increases bone density
Studies have shown that strength training increases both muscle mass and bone density. Research showed that women who lifted weights did not lose any bone density throughout the study, and actually gained an average of 1% more bone mass in the hip and spine. Non-exercising women lost 2% to 2.5% of bone mass during the same period of time. With increasing osteoporosis risk with age, this is important information. A University of Arizona study showed a 3% increase in spine and hip bone mineral density after an 18-month strength training program among women, ages 28 to 39.
5. It improves your ability to do the important things
Building muscle allows you to get more out of life. Everyday activities, such as lifting children (or grandchildren), carrying groceries, and working in the yard are much easier when you’re not struggling with the effort. Being in shape also makes you more confident, helps you stand taller and makes you feel great about yourself.
6. It counteracts depression
In a study of 32 men and women who suffered from chronic depression, Nalin Singh, M.D. and Tufts University associates divided the individuals into two groups. They directed half to perform strength training while the other half received health information. After three months, 14 of the 16 members who lifted weights felt better and no longer met the criteria for depression.
A Harvard study also showed that 10 weeks of strength training reduced clinical depression symptoms more successfully than standard counseling alone.
7. It improves sleep
Ten people in Dr. Singh’s strength training group also reported sleep difficulties at the start of the study. After 12 weeks, six of the 10 reported they no longer had trouble sleeping—they fell asleep more quickly, slept more deeply, awakened less often and slept longer.
8. It reduces your risk of diabetes
We hardly need to be told that adult-onset (Type 2) diabetes is a growing problem. Research shows that strength training can increase glucose utilization in the body by 23% in just four months. As muscles contract and relax during exercise, they use sugar for energy. To meet this energy need, your body uses sugar supplies in your blood, reducing your blood sugar levels.
9. It lowers your blood pressure
The University of Arizona study (see reason 4, above) also showed resting blood pressure (RBP) levels were impacted by strength training. Strength training participants shifted from the high-normal RBP category to normal RBP levels. Regular exercise, including strength training, strengthens the heart, allowing it to pump more blood with less effort. The less your heart has to work, the less force (or pressure) is exerted on your arteries.
10. It helps you age more gracefully
As you age, muscle mass decreases (if you’re not working to preserve it), which can cause skin to sag in not-so-pretty ways. By strength training, you can fight age-related muscle loss and maintain a more youthful physique.