In fact, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that all adults should do at least two full-body strength-training workouts a week in addition to 150 minutes a week of cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise.
That sound way like lots more exercise than many people think they need. I, for example, got by with lots of running, swimming, and biking for many years with never a thought of first, entering a gym, and most certainly, picking up a dumbbell. That all changed for me when, while recuperating from a shoulder injury, it dawned on me that I really did need to rethink my exercise program. (See more about exercising in general right here). I was becoming more and more aware of the need for strength and conditioning work for the preservation and enhancement of my aging bones and muscles. The aging process, incidentally, actually begins at about age 30, at which point muscle mass and bone strength naturally begin to diminish.
Strength Training Defined
Also known as resistance training, strength training involves any activity that puts a load on your muscles, which then stimulates them to become stronger. It may involve just your body weight, as in squats and lunges, or incorporate resistance bands, dumbbells, kettlebells, or barbells, or all of the above. It’s a “use it or lose it” proposition, for sure, when it comes to muscle strength.
While it is true that the “load” of some cardiovascular exercises, such as running, may be enough to build some strength, it is the increasing of the load that challenges the body to continue strengthening to meet the increased the demand. Indeed, regular aerobic exercise is known to benefit all manner of human conditions and has been well researched in many arenas as proof of that.
Still, experts agree that moderate levels of strength benefit almost any activity, whether athletic or simply a part of everyday living, and any activity will benefit by strength training.
Without belaboring my own story, let me share with you some of the many benefits to be had for anyone looking for a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle into a longer, more energized and active life. They are many.
Increase Bone Strength
Stressing the bones can increase bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Bones, much like muscles, are not static, but break down and renew themselves throughout life. Over the years, though, the rate of bone breakdown increases, especially in women, who usually have smaller bones to begin with. Nutrition, age, and hormones all influence bone health, but people who regularly strength train tend to have higher bone density. The training helps to stimulate the repair of bones, just as it does for muscles.
Strength work comes naturally in the lives of children in their normal active lives. As we age, though, it is important to intentionally guard against bone loss. Lifting weights is the way to do that. Creating pressure on the joints through weight-bearing exercises can help to build stronger, healthier bones.
Again, aerobic exercise is an important component of any exercise program and is known to help increase the number of calories burned in a day, thereby shedding pounds. Strength training increases the resting metabolism – the rate at which the body burns calories – even after the exercise is finished, through the rest of the day. Technically, this is called the post exercise oxygen consumption (EPOCH). The body needs more oxygen after training as it works to cool down, thus burning more calories. It’s a gift that keeps on giving – that strength training, which does a better job than aerobic exercise at actually changing body composition. Muscles become more defined, fat is burned away.
Manage Chronic Conditions
Signs and symptoms of many chronic conditions, such as arthritis, back pain, obesity, heart disease, and diabetes can be reduced by strength work. Cardiovascular disease, for example, the number one killer in the United States, can be abated with aerobic exercise and muscle strengthening activity. Research has shown that it improves HDL, the good cholesterol, blood pressure and triglyceride levels. Grip strength, a marker for total-body muscle health more accurately predicts death from heart disease than blood pressure.
Resistance training is highly recommended for people with Type 2 diabetes. Along with building muscle, it also improves the muscle’s ability to take in and use glucose, (blood sugar), and improves insulin sensitivity, thus lowering the needed insulin dose or eliminating it.
Back pain has many origins, but muscular imbalances, such as weak knees and an unstable core, are often overlooked major contributors. The muscles of the body work in a kinetic chain. If’ there is a weak link, it can show up as a bigger problem in different parts of the body. By building total-body strength, many injuries can be bypassed.
Boost Brain Health
Cardiovascular exercise has long been researched and applauded for its many mental health benefits. The research on strength training, a younger phenomenon, has begun to claim its share of the spotlight. In general, the research supports the idea that a combination of both aerobic training and strength training may provide more positive benefits than other exercise programs; strength training also improves symptoms of depression and anxiety. While exercise-triggered endorphins play a role, but strength training also provides and opportunity to overcome obstacles in a controlled, predictable environment – a huge confidence builder.
Brain power can be improved at any time across the lifespan by weight work, but the effects are perhaps most notable in older adults suffering from cognitive decline. (Again, that’s all of us over 30). One study in particular, though, found that when men and women aged 55 through 86 with mild impairment performed twice-weekly weight training for six months, they significantly improved their scores on cognitive tests. However, when participants spent their workouts stretching, their cognitive test scores. The key here might be to get the blood flowing, delivering valuable oxygen and nutrients to the brain.
Enhance Quality of Life
With better posture, improved sleep, greater flexibility and mobility and an enhanced body image, plus all the benefits listed above, many things in life get better with regular strength training. Daily activities become easier, better balance keeps confidence going and growing as well as helping to prevent falls. Any sports performance becomes improved and new physical activities may present themselves for experimentation.
Remember those guidelines for physical activity at the beginning of this story? Following those has been associated with greatly reduced of all cause and cause specific mortality. That means that a good exercise program carried out can add not only life to your years, but years to your life, as well.