Lifting weights used to be seen as something only athletes or professional lifters did in the past. But as you’ll see from the health benefits of weight training, there’s something in it for everyone. Women have as much to gain as men do from weight lifting. Even seniors can benefit from lifting weights. And no, you don’t need to be uber fit to start – regular people like you and me can be successful at keeping up an exercise regimen involving weights too. Here’s why you should give it a shot.
1. Boosts Health And Longevity
If you’re wondering whether a cardio workout will do when you’re trying to lead a healthy lifestyle, consider this. Health authorities the world over, including the World Health Organization, recommend that adults fit in not just 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity like brisk walking, running, or other forms of “cardio,” but also add on some strength or resistance training. The suggested weekly minimum is two resistance/strength training workouts, which means you need to incorporate weight training into your regimen at least two days a week – more if you can.1 This can help with bringing down all-cause mortality, besides cutting down your risk of developing diseases like type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis.2 Got your attention? There are even more reasons to consider investing in those weights or using your local gym or fitness center to access weightlifting machines.
2. Increases Muscle Mass
As you grow older your body begins to lose muscle mass unless you make a special effort to prevent this. Did you know you could lose as much as half a pound of muscle every single year in your 30s and 40s? As you hit the big five-oh, you may see this rate of muscle loss cost you a pound a year. You’ll notice that with it comes diminished ability to carry loads. It may also hamper movements that you’d never thought twice about like getting up from a chair or carrying things. Your metabolism too becomes a little slower with this lower muscle level since you burn fewer calories through fat.3
Pumping iron can counteract the problem, strengthening your muscles and helping preserve muscle tone. It improves your body composition so if you work out with weights regularly, you will see the fat melt away and be replaced with muscle.4
3. Builds Bone Strength
Osteoporosis affects an estimated 8 million women and 2 million men in the United States alone. Having this condition, characterized by weak bones, raises your risk of fractures, some of which can be debilitating and may affect your mobility, especially if you are older. Strength training like weight lifting can help slow the bone loss that comes with age and may even help build bone. By doing load-bearing workouts, you get stronger bones that are also denser. And while weight-bearing aerobic exercise (like running which uses your own body as the weight) is great for this, weight training can also help you target bones of your hips, wrists, and spine, all of which are prone to fractures.5
4. Improves Balance And Reduces Risk Of Falls
Wouldn’t it be nice not to live in constant fear of falling and breaking a hip or leg? If you have poor lower body muscle tone, it can make you more prone to falls and injuries. Build that muscle strength with a good lower body routine in your weight training and you should see less falls.6 Researchers have found that such exercises improved lower limb strength as well balance in test subjects aged 65 and over, confirming its benefits to this age group.7
id="5">5. Aids Weight Loss
If you thought aerobic exercise was the only way to burn calories, you haven’t discovered the true potential of lifting weights! Weight training with kettlebells, for instance, can help you burn around 272 calories from the aerobic aspect of the workout in just 20 minutes – that’s similar to the burn from running a 6-minute mile. But it also burns more calories from the anaerobic effort, making it comparable to uphill cross-country skiing at a fast pace!8
No, you will not get big and bulky by lifting weights. On the contrary, lifting weights may actually help you lose weight and get that toned physique you want. The bulking up happens only if you consume a large number of calories to build up that mass. So how does this work? As you lift weights that challenge you, you build muscle mass, which means your metabolic rate also revs up. With that higher metabolic rate, you stand to burn more calories every day, and more burnt calories equal greater weight loss – provided you don’t increase your food intake, that is, you ensure you burn more than you consume every day.9 It could also help reduce the abdominal fat in your body and even improve blood sugar levels, something diabetics can leverage.10
6. Improves Glucose Metabolism And Insulin Sensitivity
Strength training can help improve how your body metabolizes glucose and your insulin sensitivity. When your muscles contract during weight lifting, it increases the uptake of glucose and improves insulin sensitivity in your skeletal muscles. Such exercise may not ward off type 2 diabetes but can help those who already have the condition to manage it better.11 Another thing that makes weightlifting a good option for those with diabetes is that sometimes a patient’s age (if they are seniors) or their weight (if they are very overweight or obese) might prevent them from pursuing aerobic exercise as their daily physical activity. Yet exercise remains a crucial part of managing the condition. Weight lifting can be a good alternative.12
id="improves-your-mood">7. Improves Your Mood
Weight lifting and weight training can be good for the mind as it is for the body. Weight training can stimulate the release of your body’s endorphins or happiness hormones that put you in a good mood. And if you thought only a good run could do that, it turns out that weight lifting is even more effective in that department!13
8. Relieves Stress
Strength training or weight lifting helps up the levels of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter and hormone which helps your body cope with stress better.14 As with aerobic exercise, weight lifting can help ease anxiety and depressive symptoms. If you have a condition like panic disorder, you should see symptoms improve if you exercise regularly. The effects of exercise are thought to be comparable to relaxation techniques and meditation. Keep in mind, though, that a chronic anxiety problem may not be as responsive to exercise as a short-term acute anxiety issue. There are not enough studies on the effects of strength training in particular on teens and seniors, but physical activity in general may help them too, according to researchers.15
9. Helps You Sleep Better
If you are sleeping poorly, waking often, rousing early, or finding it hard to nod off in the first place, exercise can help. Being physically active is linked to healthy sleep patterns and also a lower risk of problems like sleep apnea. If you have a depression-linked sleep disorder, weight training can improve your sleep by as much as 30% in just 8–10 weeks of your starting this regular regimen.16 If you are older, it could help even more. In one study on older adults, researchers found that 38% of these seniors, engaged in a 6-month long training program that involved weights, experienced better sleep quality after starting the program.17
10. Slows Or Prevents Cognitive Decline In Seniors
Weight training can also help the elderly keep their mental agility even as they grow older. Such exercises may reduce cognitive decline and even prevent it in older adults.18 One study found that strength training could in just 16 weeks bring better cognitive performance in test subjects. Exercise like this may also have neuroprotective effects, shielding you from oxidative stress in the brain that is a step or two away from developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.19
11. May Lower Blood Pressure
Weight training two to three times a week could help lower your blood pressure.20 One study found that progressive resistance exercise, where the overload is constantly increased to challenge your body more, could bring down both resting systolic and diastolic blood pressure, the two indicators of your blood pressure. The reductions of about 2% and 4%, respectively, that was seen is significant enough to make a difference. However, further studies need to be done to see if the results hold on a wider group of hypertensive individuals. Also, those with a major hypertension or high blood pressure problem may need to avoid lifting weights depending on what the doctor advises.21
12. Helps Your Heart
As you have seen, strength training can improve your muscle mass, cut down the fat in your body, and consequently lower obesity risk. For those with type 2 diabetes, weightlifting could also help improve blood sugar control. It may also improve your cholesterol levels and blood pressure. All these factors combined spell better heart health.22
If you are at moderate to high risk of cardiovascular problems like heart attacks or stroke, you must always consult your doctor first before starting a weight lifting routine.23 If you are at low risk, you should be able to take it up without a problem. You will, however, need to undertake the workouts in a graded manner, building up from fewer reps and sets with lighter weights and gradually moving to more reps/sets and slightly heavier weights. Still, be sure to take all the necessary precautions to avoid injury. If you’ve had a heart attack before, you will need to get the green light from your cardiologist on an appropriate program for cardiac rehab.24
Getting Started With Weight Lifting
To strength train, you may choose to do bodyweight exercises like lunges or the plank. You can also up the ante by using weights like dumbbells, kettlebells, and barbells or weight lifting machines like weight stack home gyms, bench presses, squat racks, or calf raise machines.
Here are some pointers to keep in mind when you begin a weightlifting routine.
- Start your workout with a warm-up and, just as important, don’t forget to end with a proper cool-down. Dynamic stretching like yoga poses or walking lunges can help bring that heart rate down to 100–120 beats a minute.25
- Aim at doing between 8–12 repetitions of a movement in one set. This gives your muscles a good workout without tiring them.26
- When you are starting out, a single set routine may actually be better. It takes less time and you are more likely to stick with the program this way. And they are still highly effective. Try and do your routine thrice a week if you can instead. Gradually add to your routine and do multiple sets.27
- Don’t rush into things. Start with lighter weights and add heavier ones as you build muscle strength and tone up.28
- Finding someone to workout with to boost your chances of sticking with the program. If you can’t find a buddy to team up with, sign up for a fitness class where you’re likely to find one. You may consider hiring a personal trainer if you can afford it.29
- Plan your diet smartly depending on your goals. In general, have more lean protein, some amount of healthy fats, and unrefined carbohydrates before a workout to help you power through. You also need plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables for their antioxidants to help recover from a workout and lots of water to stay hydrated!
Now that you see the potential health benefits you are missing out on, why delay getting started with your own weight-training routine? Here’s to a fitter you!
|↑1||Physical Activity and Adults.
|↑2||Physical Activity and Adults. World Health Organization.|
|↑3||Energize Your Life with Strength Training.
|↑4, ↑29||Energize Your Life with Strength Training. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑5||Strength training builds more than muscles.
|↑6, ↑7||Lee, In-Hee, and Sang-young Park. “Balance improvement by strength training for the elderly.” Journal of physical therapy science 25, no. 12 (2013): 1591-1593.|
|↑8||Kettlebells: Twice the Results in Half the Time? American Council on Exercise.|
|↑9||Weight Training For Weight Loss.
|↑10, ↑22, ↑24||Power up your heart health. Harvard Health Publishing.|
|↑11, ↑23, ↑27||Williams, Mark A., William L. Haskell, Philip A. Ades, Ezra A. Amsterdam, Vera Bittner, Barry A. Franklin, Meg Gulanick, Susan T. Laing, and Kerry J. Stewart. “Resistance exercise in individuals with and without cardiovascular disease: 2007 update: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association Council on Clinical Cardiology and Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism.” Circulation 116, no. 5 (2007): 572-584.|
|↑12||Willey, Karen A., and Maria A. Fiatarone Singh. “Battling insulin resistance in elderly obese people with type 2 diabetes: bring on the heavy weights.” Diabetes care 26, no. 5 (2003): 1580-1588.|
|↑13||The Psychological Benefits of Strength Training.
|↑14||The Psychological Benefits of Strength Training. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑15||Paluska, Scott A., and Thomas L. Schwenk. “Physical activity and mental health.” Sports medicine 29, no. 3 (2000): 167-180.|
|↑16||Resistance Training Improves Mental Health. University of New Mexico (Albuquerque).|
|↑17||Ferris, Lee T., James S. Williams, Chwan Li Shen, Kendra A. O’Keefe, and Kimberly B. Hale. “Resistance training improves sleep quality in older adults a pilot study.” Journal of sports science & medicine 4, no. 3 (2005): 354.|
|↑18||Resistance training – health benefits. Department of Health & Human Services, State Government of Victoria, Australia.|
|↑19||de Camargo Smolarek, André, Luis Henrique Boiko Ferreira, Luis Paulo Gomes Mascarenhas, Steven R. McAnulty, Karla Daniele Varela, Mônica C. Dangui, Marcelo Paes de Barros, Alan C. Utter, and Tácito P. Souza-Junior. “The effects of strength training on cognitive performance in elderly women.” Clinical interventions in aging 11 (2016): 749.|
|↑20||Pollock, Michael L., Barry A. Franklin, Gary J. Balady, Bernard L. Chaitman, Jerome L. Fleg, Barbara Fletcher, Marian Limacher et al. “Resistance exercise in individuals with and without cardiovascular disease: benefits, rationale, safety, and prescription an advisory from the committee on exercise, rehabilitation, and prevention, council on clinical cardiology, American Heart Association.” Circulation 101, no. 7 (2000): 828-833.|
|↑21||Kelley, George A., and Kristi Sharpe Kelley. “Progressive resistance exercise and resting blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” Hypertension 35, no. 3 (2000): 838-843.|
|↑25||5 Ways to Cool Down After a Workout. Men’s Journal.|
|↑26, ↑28||5 Benefits of Strength Training. American Cancer Society.|