Why participate in strength training?
Most people know it's a great way to transform our bodies. We can build muscle, shape our glutes, get bigger arms, and get better at lifting weights.
But, it is also one of the best ways to positively influence almost every system in our body.
Strength training activities have been linked to reductions in injury risk, improved cardiac health, decreased all-cause mortality, improved mental health, improved metabolic health, increased bone mineral density, and more.
Fortunately, you don't need to be an elite bodybuilder to get all these benefits. The current WHO Guidelines for Physical Activity now include strength training... finally.
Adults aged 18-64 should also do muscle-strengthening activities at moderate or greater intensity that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these provide additional health benefits.
Just 2 days a week can start to give you many of these life-altering benefits. Here's how.
STRENGTH AND MENTAL HEALTH
Strength training has both acute and chronic effects on mental health. Several studies have demonstrated links between resistance training and improvements in cognition and memory.
STRENGTH AND LONGEVITY
A few studies have looked at the correlation between physical strength, how long we live, and how well we live those years. This makes sense, as humans performed manual labor for the majority of our existence. It is only in recent years that we are growingly soft as technology improves our lives in many other ways. Grip strength has been examined in a few studies as a proxy for full-body strength. Unsurprisingly, the stronger grips were associated with lower overall mortality rates and decreased deaths from cardiopulmonary causes. Will performing daily grip strengthening exercises cause you to live forever? Unlikely, but being generally strong and healthy increases your odds of a long, fulfilling life.
STRENGTH AND METABOLIC HEALTH
First, what is metabolic health? Metabolic refers to our metabolism which has to do with how we use and store energy. Several blood markers can give us a picture of our metabolic health. HDL and LDL Cholesterol, blood glucose, and markers of inflammation can give us an idea of how we are doing in the world of metabolism and their levels can be improved with the implementation of a resistance training program. Strength training can have a positive impact on almost all of this, even at low doses. Strength training is often a portion of the treatment, management, and prevention of Type 2 Diabetes for a reason.
STRENGTH AND BONE HEALTH
Our bones respond grow in response to stress. Frequently loading our bones gives them a reason to increase their density. Osteopenia and osteoporosis are conditions in which bones lose their density and are more susceptible to injury.
Loading the bones with weight training is perhaps the best way to build bone mineral density over a lifetime.
STRENGTH AND CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH
Cardiovascular disease is still the largest cause of death in the United States. Blood pressure is an excellent marker for cardiovascular health and should be checked regularly.
High blood pressure (BP) is one of the most important risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD), which is the leading cause of mortality. Approximately 54% of strokes and 47% of coronary heart diseases, worldwide, are attributable to high BP.
Resistance training has been documented to improve both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in those who are both pre-hypertensive and hypertensive.
STRENGTH AND INJURY RISK REDUCTION
Of all the MANY things that people do to try and get hurt less, strength training is the only thing that consistently has a significant reduction in the risk of injury in sports and life.
Increasing strength training volume and intensity were associated with sports injury risk reduction.
STRENGTH AND THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
It is well understood that regular exercise has a profound effect on the function of our immune system. This system is crucial in fighting off infections and healing. While there is some evidence that INTENSE bouts of exercise, like running an ultra-marathon, can have an acute suppressing effect on the immune system, consistent exercise has an overwhelmingly positive effective on our immune system as a whole.
Ok, so lifting weights is good for you. There is much, much more than the blurbs I have listed above and a long reference list at the bottom of this article for your reading pleasure. But - how do we accomplish this?
Here are my simple, blanket recommendations:
Find forms of resistance training that you like to do. Bodyweight exercises, weight lifting, TRX training, kettlebell workouts, CrossFit, whatever! As long as you are performing strenuous exercise against an external load then you are getting it done.
Fit these activities into your current routine at least 2x/week working the major muscle groups of the body. Yes, that means your legs.
Focus on continuously improving your performance at these activities. This is called progressive overload and can be accomplished by adding more weight, more reps, more sets, more frequency.
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de Sousa, E. C., Abrahin, O., Ferreira, A., Rodrigues, R. P., Alves, E., & Vieira, R. P. (2017). Resistance training alone reduces systolic and diastolic blood pressure in prehypertensive and hypertensive individuals: meta-analysis. Hypertension research : official journal of the Japanese Society of Hypertension, 40(11), 927–931. https://doi.org/10.1038/hr.2017.69
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