When it comes to maintaining optimal health and fitness — not to mention looking our best — the benefits of resistance training are plentiful.
And yet, for many adults, exercise is a rarity. We’re literally screen-timing years off our lives.
Resistance training — moving your muscles under a challenging load — may be the solution to a healthier life.
Not convinced of what a few weekly sessions of lifting weights (or stretching bands or doing bodyweight moves) can do for you?
Here are a few of the benefits of strength training.
1. Resistance training prevents muscle loss
“As you age, your body will start to get rid of muscle tissue,” says Cody Braun, CPT.
This process, also known as sarcopenia, occurs at a rate of about 1% of our muscle mass annually starting at age 30.
We might not feel this much at age 35 or 40, but by 65, that means we’ve lost more than a third of our muscle mass — leading to frailty, a slower metabolism, and loss of function in later years.
Resistance training is the most effective way to halt that muscle loss — and even reverse it — helping you remain vigorous into your 80s and beyond.
2. Resistance training burns fat
Like any other form of exercise, strength training burns calories beyond what you burn when you’re sedentary — which, over time, can lead to a leaner physique.
But that’s only part of the story.
“When you focus on building muscle, you will also raise your metabolism as a result,” says Braun. “When you have more metabolically active tissue — muscle — your body will require more calories to sustain itself. That means the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn.”
The most important advantage of strength training to your fat-loss efforts is that it helps you maintain muscle mass while you’re dieting.
Without it, about half the weight you lose will be in the form of muscle mass — the same stuff you need to help you burn fat in the first place!
Keep the strength training up while you diet, and virtually all the weight you lose on a reduced-calorie diet will be in the form of fat, leaving you leaner, sleeker, more muscular — and better able to burn fat — for your efforts.
3. Strength training can add years to your life
What’s the most reliable indicator of longevity? Cholesterol? Triglycerides? Blood pressure?
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Loss of function often leads to a steep decline in independence, health, and wellness.
One of the great benefits of resistance training is shoring up muscular strength, which keeps you stronger — and more functional — for life.
So keep your muscles strong. And for heaven’s sake, don’t skip leg day.
4. Resistance training can help keep your bones strong
Resistance exercise builds more than muscle: your bones, too, grow and shrink in response to movement and inactivity.
Most people’s bone mass peaks in early adulthood, then gradually decreases, leaving you with measurably reduced bone density in and beyond middle age.
In severe cases, osteoporosis — a marked weakening of the bones — occurs later in life, leaving you more susceptible to fractures.
Strength training can turn that around.
Just as novel stress on a muscle causes it to grow, pressure on bones from resistance exercise — as well as high-impact activities like jumping and hopping — causes bones to thicken and grow denser.
So if bone loss runs in your family — or you’ve been told that you’re losing bone mass — hit the weights.
5. Strength training can lift your spirits
Depression affects over 300 million people worldwide and results in $118 billion of lost income annually.
Lifting weights, says a recent study, can help with that.
Sometimes called “the most underutilized antidepressant,” exercise has long been known to help chase off mental demons.
A meta-analysis of over 2,000 participants found that strength training reduced the incidence of depressive symptoms, regardless of whether the person made substantial gains in strength or muscle mass from their training.
Another 2017 study found similar results with symptoms of anxiety.
Got the blues? Lift them away.
6. Resistance training can improve your appearance
Let’s not forget the most important benefit of lifting weights for many people: It can help you look better.
Novice lifters (of all genders) often mistakenly believe that a few sessions in the gym will turn them into bulked-up bodybuilders.
It’s a myth: Building noticeably large muscles never happens by accident.
Impressively huge arms, thighs, and glutes that strain the seams of your jeans take many years of concentrated work. After which, only a tiny fraction of people find they have the genetics to pull it off.
If you’re female, your chances of getting bulky without making a concerted, years-long effort to do so are, for all intents and purposes, zero.
Instead, strength training will make you look leaner and more toned. Your arms and legs will have more shape and contour.
Your belly will be flatter, and if you make some changes in your diet at the same time, you may even see an ab or two peeking out before too long.
Your posture will improve as well, and soon enough, you’ll move with a quality we all hope to nurture: that head-held-high, proud-to-be-you feeling known as confidence.
However much and however often you lift, this might be the most significant benefit of all.