I’m sure you’ve heard these sentiments or maybe even had some of these thoughts yourself:
“I don’t want to bulk up.”
“I’m not strong enough.”
“I want to lose fat, not gain muscle mass.”
It’s time to dispel the myths – and dig into the many benefits – of weight training.
One of the best ways to live a healthy, long life is by weight training, a physical exercise that uses weights as external loads. There are lots of different approaches to weight training and the benefits associated with each are plentiful — but for starters, the most important step is to dive in and incorporate resistance training into your routine.
We all know that exercise is good for health and longevity but there are specific benefits to weight training – so what are they?
1. Build and preserve muscles mass
Women in particular often shy away from weight training, worrying about “bulking up”. But not to worry — it takes intense, long-term, targeted training and a specialized diet to achieve a bodybuilder look.
When we load a muscle during exercise we are creating small tears in the muscle that cause an adaptation to take place — building more muscle. This is vitally important as we age because muscle mass tends to decline after the age of thirty, and by the age of eighty 40% or more of muscle mass is lost (1). When muscle mass is lost, so goes storage for glucose, which means that it becomes easier to pack on fat. Most importantly, having more muscular fitness allows for greater physical movement and independence in our activities. This helps us live longer, higher quality lives (2) .
The “I need to be strong enough to even start weight training” worry is an equally big myth. In fact, you’ve got to “start small” if that’s where your body’s at in order to prevent injury and strain. Weight training is an effective way to preserve, maintain and build muscle mass (3).
2. Prevention of osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is the weakening of the bones, which makes us much more prone to breaks and fractures. Think about it like this: bone is living tissue that’s continuously rebuilding itself. When we’re young, bone formation exceeds bone loss, and in adulthood, the two processes balance each other — our bones are actually strongest at around the age of thirty. But with age, this process becomes less efficient and the density of bone is lost.
Weight training is particularly important with age, since it places a mechanical load onto bones and tissues which results in the body adapting and keeping the bones healthy and strong (4).Weight training also increases strength and balance which can help prevent accidents, falls, and their related injuries.
3. Increase in insulin sensitivity
Insulin is a hormone that controls the amount of sugar in our blood by helping sugars and amino acids (the building blocks of protein) get into our cells. So what happens when we lose “insulin sensitivity”? We have a harder time building and maintaining muscle mass, and can develop diseases like type 2 diabetes.
Staying sensitive to insulin is arguably one of the most important factors for staying healthy and thriving throughout life. When we exercise, we increase something called the GLUT4 glucose transporter in our muscle cells (5). The GLUT4 transporter helps us get sugars into these cells, and GLUT4-rich cellular membranes are very responsive to insulin (6). In other words, we increase our insulin sensitivity through exercise. Increases in our glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity deteriorate within 72 hours of our last exercise session, which means that regular exercise is absolutely vital in keeping up this health benefit (7).
(Photo by Cyril Saulnier)
4. Reduce inflammation
Chronic levels of inflammation in the body are extremely damaging. In fact, inflammation has been found to be associated with many different types of disease. Arthritis is the inflammation of joints, while heart disease is tied to the inflammation of arteries. Inflammation of the gut is seen in Crohn’s and other conditions affecting the digestive system.
Lowering inflammation in the body can help us feel better not only physically but mentally as well, and weight training has been shown to lower chronic levels of inflammation (8).
5. Improve mental strength and confidence
Weight training is anything but a walk in the park. It’s a challenge both physically and mentally. I cannot even count the amount of times I have wanted to quit during a weight training workout but continued on to expand my physical and mental strength. Weight training helps to improve our mental strength which then can transfer over to other areas of our life too.
It also teaches us to believe in ourselves; in our capabilities and how to overcome challenges. I often work with people who for as long as they remember have been focused on losing: less weight, less fat. This focus on the negative can really take a toll on one’s confidence and at the very least, is draining. Weight training on the other hand allows you to focus on your growth. On being stronger, physically and mentally. It gives you tools necessary to help move through life each day, ready to take on whatever is thrown at you.
6. Stay happy
Serotonin, often referred to as the “feel good” hormone, is a chemical messenger that helps to relay messages from one area of the brain to another. It’s one of the key brain chemicals involved in regulating mood and promoting feelings of relaxation and calm, while a lack of serotonin is associated with depression (in fact, many antidepressant drugs work to increase the amount of serotonin available in the brain).
Serotonin is created from an amino acid called tryptophan. Unfortunately, a group of other amino acids — Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) — compete with tryptophan to get into the brain. But when we exercise, our muscles readily take up BCAAs which allows tryptophan to enter the brain more easily and then be converted into serotonin.
And the benefits to mood go on! Weight training – and all forms of exercise – also help to release endorphins, another set of “feel good” chemicals that inhibit the perception of pain and can also produce a feeling of euphoria.
If we put ourselves in a positive mindset during resistance training, then how can we not feel good after completing a great workout!
So, where to start?
With so many benefits to weight training, it’s definitely worth incorporating it into your schedule a couple of times each week. It can be intimidating to start, so hiring a trainer can be very useful in helping us improve our confidence, plus they help to push us further than we thought was possible.
One thing we need to remember when it comes to all types of exercise is that consistency is absolutely vital to making long term progress and adaptations. Eating one nutritious meal doesn’t make you healthy, and one weight training session doesn’t make you strong – it takes consistent effort, but it’s worth it for our long term physical and mental health.
Looking for tips to start? Watch my exercise demo on how to do a perfect weighted squat.
(1) Nuria Garatachea, et al. Exercise Attenuates the Major Hallmarks of Aging. Rejuvenation Research. 2015 Feb 1: 18 (1): 57-59.
(2) Shannon J. FitzGerald, et al. Muscular Fitness and All-Cause Mortality: Prospective Observations. Journal of Physical Acitivty & Health. Jan 2004; Volume 1 Issue 1.
(3) Mark D. Peterson, et al. Influence of Resistance Exercise on Lean Body Mass in Aging Adults: A Meta Analysis. Medicine Science and Sports Exercise. Feb 2012; 43 (2): 249-258.
(4) Jennifer E. Layne and Miriam E. Nelson. The effects of progressive resistance training on bone density: a review. Medicine & science in Sports & Exercise. Jan 1999; 31(1): 25-30.
(5) Richter EA, Hargreaves M. Exercise, GLUT4, and skeletal muscle glucose uptake. Physiology Reviews. 2013 Jul: 93(3):993-1017.
(6) Shaohui Huang, et al. The GLUT4 Glucose Transporter. Cell Metabolism. April 2007.
(7) Albright A, et al. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Exercise and Type 2 diabetes. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. July 2000; 32 (7): 1345-1360.
(8) Mariana C. Calle, et al. Effects of Resistance Training on Inflammatory Response. Nutrition Research and Practice. Aug 2010; 4 (4): 259-269.