The first thing that comes to our mind when we want to build a big, impressive set of biceps or obtaining the six-pack for summer is hitting the gym. You are lifting weights to build bigger muscles, but what if your main objective isn’t to be a mass monster?
Did you know that strength training benefits more than just your muscles? Michael Rebold, the director of integrative exercise sciences at Hiram College in Ohio, notes “a lot of people believe that if they don’t want to look like a bodybuilder, they shouldn’t perform resistance training.”
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Rebold goes on to say “so the only form of exercise they do is aerobic, and then they wonder why they are having trouble making any significant improvements in their health.” In order to build muscle mass, you have to eat sufficient amounts of protein and maintain a caloric surplus. You have to lift heavy weights, lift consistently, and lift often - always pushing yourself to a new level training-wise. You need to maintain a minimum level of intensity and nutrition ... and that doesn’t happen by itself or overnight. Before you decide that lifting weights “isn’t for you,” I suggest you read on and check out these 11 benefits of strength training.
BUILD MORE MUSCLE
11 Benefits of Strength Training
#1 - You Will Have Lesser Abdominal Fat
In a 2014 study published in the research journal Obesity, researchers at Harvard University followed over 10,500 men over the course of 12 years. They found that strength training is more effective at preventing an increase in abdominal fat than cardiovascular exercise.
"When people incorporate strength training into their exercise routine, they do not only burn calories, but they also increase lean muscle mass, which stimulates the metabolism," Rebold says.
The amount of muscle mass you have on your body is a major determinate of your basal metabolic rate, which is how many calories your body burns while at rest. So, as you have more muscle, your body will burn more calories while it's at rest.
#2 - You Will Have Better Control Over Your Blood Sugar Levels
A 2013 review published in the journal BioMed Research International suggests that lifting weights does not only build strength, but also improves our body’s ability to absorb and utilize glucose.
"In your muscle cells, you have these transporters that pick up glucose from the blood and deliver it to the muscle cells," Rebold says. "Strength training improves their functioning to pick up a lot more glucose from the blood and into muscle, thereby decreasing blood sugar levels."
Resistance training is something that anyone with type 2-diabetes should look into due to its' ability to help you gain more control over your blood sugar levels.
#3 - Your Will Have a Healthier Heart
Visceral fat, which is the fat that surrounds your organs, builds up over time, and it's also around your heart. This is why it's important to reduce or prevent more excess abdominal fat.
Fortunately, strength training does help with just that.
Although, studies do suggest that strength training also directly impacts the heart, too. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology demonstrated that young men who performed strength training on a regular basis had more well-functioning HDL cholesterol compared to those who did not engage in strength training.
Strength training has a positive effect on your HDL, (the "good" cholesterol), and lowers blood pressure and triglyceride levels similar to cardiovascular exercise.
A 2015 study published in The Lancet medical journal suggests that grip strength, which is a a marker for total-body muscle health, predicts death from heart disease more accurately than blood pressure levels do.
#4 - The Risk of Cancer is Reduced
Visceral fat increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes, but did you know that it also promotes the development of cancer? Research from the journal Oncogene published in 2017 suggests that visceral fat cells produce high levels of a cancer-triggering protein called fibroblast growth factor-2, or FGF2.
A 2017 study that was published in Therapeutic Advances in Medical Oncology suggests that muscle mass is a strong predictor of the outcomes of medical cancer treatment. Muscle wasting is a common complication of medical cancer treatment and is also associated with a higher risk of chemotherapy toxicity, faster tumor progression, and lower survival rates.
#5 - Stronger Mental Health
Ever heard of the term “runner’s high?” Runners who push themselves to a certain level of intensity experience a type of high after their run. Your body produces certain “feel good” hormones (endorphines) and you can feel them.
It's been shown that strength training also improves symptoms of clinical depression and anxiety. These exercise-triggered endorphins do play an important role, but strength training allows you to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles in a controlled environment.
Going to the gym on a consistent basis and lifting weights builds a mental resiliency and carries over into other parts of your life.
A 2014 study that was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology suggests that using low to moderate weights that are lighter than 70 percent of what you can lift for one repetition has the greatest effects on anxiety.
You don’t have to kill yourself when you lift weights, but fighting through the challenges of heavy loads can provide marked improvements in your mental health.
#6 - Lower Risks of Injury
Having a solid base of muscle mass is important for all movement, balance, coordination, and injury prevention. “If your muscle is too weak, it puts more stress on its' connecting tendon and can result in tendonitis,” according to Dr. Adam Rivadeneyra, a sports medicine physician with Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Irvine, California.
According to a 2015 study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy - which is a publication of the International Federation of Sports Physical Therapy - strength training also increases the number of and the diameter of collagen fibrils in your tendons, which in turn increases their strength and helps to prevent injury.
#7 - Your Will Have Improved Flexibility
When you hear the word 'flexibility', you probably start thinking about Yoga and sitting in some sort of stretch position, right? Results from a 2017 study in the journal Isokinetics and Exercise Science suggests that strength training improves the flexibility of men and women alike.
An older study published in 2006 in the North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found that eccentric strength exercises may in fact provide the biggest benefit; improving hamstring flexibility twice as effective as static stretching does.
The eccentric part of an exercise is the part that puts emphasis on the muscle lengthening rather than shortening. For example, the phase in which you lower the weight in a squat or a bench press.
Mobility is extremely important. Taking your joints through their full range of motion during strength exercises can contribute to increasing the range of motion over time.
#8 - You Will Have Higher Self-esteem
We all know that physical exercise and lifting weights changes you physically, but what about mentally?
A 2015 study that was published in the Journal of Extension took middle-aged and older women, and proved that strength training on a consistent basis improves body image and perceived physical appearance - no matter your actual aesthetic results. Along with a boost in your mental health and energy levels, you will feel a sense of accomplishment as well.
These are all factors that can indeed improve your overall body image.
#9 - You Will Have a Lower Risk of Osteoporosis
A strong body equals strong bones. Lifting weights significantly increases bone mineral density.
Any weight-bearing exercise in which you are standing and gravity pulls down on you, stresses and strengthens both your bones and your muscles.
Every time we contract a muscle, it pulls on the bone that it's attached to. This stimulates the cells within the bone to produce structural proteins and helps shuttle important minerals into the bone.
For the best results, it's recommended that you prioritize exercises where you stand and bear weight like a squat or a lunge. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Family and Community Medicine suggests just 12 weeks of weightlifting with squats can increase your lower spine and femur bone mineral density by 2.9-4.9%, respectively.
... and that’s after only 12 weeks.
#10 - You Will Live Longer
Even if you're going through a rough time right now, you probably want to live a longer life. One of the best things about lifting weights is that it can help promote a longer life.
A study published in The Lancet in 2015 found that grip strength accurately predicts death from any cause. Another study published in the Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care in 2017 suggests that your body mass index (BMI), or how much lean muscle mass you have, is a better measure of a person’s overall health.
#11 - You Will Boost Your Brain Health
Resistance training can help improve the power of your brain throughout your life. The effects, though, have been shown to be much stronger in older adults that are suffering from cognitive decline.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of American Geriatrics found that men and women between the ages of 55 and 86 with a mild impairment who performed resistance training twice per week significantly improved their scores on cognitive tests after six months. On the other hand, when participants stuck to stretching and not lifting weights, their cognitive test scores declined.
Many professionals believe that the key is to get the blood flowing. As you lift weights, your blood pumps and shuttles oxygen, blood, and other important nutrients to your brain.
In this study, the adults lifted at around 80 percent of their one rep max (1RM). This roughly equated to the amount of weight the participant can lift for eight repetitions with good form.
It doesn’t matter if you're an 80-year-old woman or a 25-year-old man; lifting weights can and will improve more than just the amount of lean muscle you have on your body.
It will increase your bone density, improve your mobility and flexibility, reduce your risk of heart disease, and improve your longevity. You don’t have to have a goal to be a world champion powerlifter to reap the benefits of lifting weights.
Learn how to lift properly with good technique, get into the gym, and start enjoying a life filled with a healthier body, mind, and spirit.