Ask The Fitness Jewell: What Are The Hidden Benefits Of Strength Training?

You may know the feeling of looking in the mirror and seeing muscles peeking back at you. This magical tissue is good for more than just flexing.
Q

I'm convinced that weight training is great—especially for my physique! But my friends and family members are the types who need health-focused reasons to do anything. What can I tell them?

I've written a number of articles on Bodybuilding.com about the benefits that strength training offers for your physical appearance, but I get that physique isn't everybody's driving force—at least for the moment. Once your friends experience the thrill of completely overhauling their bodies into tip-top shape, they'd probably allow themselves to be proud of that accomplishment. But of course there are a multitude of other health bennies that simply can't be ignored.

Yes, you read that correctly: strength training not only improves your physical appearance and strength level, but your overall health as well. Part of this is related to reductions in body fat, as you might expect, but it extends far beyond that. Intrigued? You should be. Let's dig deeper!

1
Lower Long-Term Disease Risk

While one of the benefits of cardiovascular exercise can be reduced blood pressure, it's not the only way to bring those numbers down. Some researchers have been suspicious of strength training in this regard, because lifting heavy has been known to cause a short spike in blood pressure. However, resting blood pressure usually drops shortly after resistance exercise; Brazilian researchers have been looking closely at this phenomenon over the last few years. In a number of recent studies, they concluded that a little as an hour of strength training per week can reduce blood pressure enough to drop stroke risk by 25 percent!

Breast cancer beware! Research suggests that regular exercise can reduce your breast cancer risk by as much as 20-40 percent. Increasing your muscular strength in particular can help you to keep your estrogen levels in check. When estrogen gets out of control, it can cause weight gain and other health complications, and over time, it can also increase your risk of breast cancer. Overall reduction of fat also affects your estrogen levels in a positive manner.

Stroke ... check. Cancer ... check. How about diabetes? There's been some interesting research in recent years indicating that it's not just how much fat you have that affects your risk for developing type 2 diabetes, but also where it's located. People who accumulate excess fat inside their muscles are particularly at risk for becoming insulin-resistant and diabetic. Of course, cardio workouts can help control diabetes, but strength training shouldn't be ignored. In 2012, Italian researchers noted that overweight women who incorporated resistance training were able to reduce the fat inside their muscles, which significantly altered their fat metabolism. You see, even though our muscles use glycogen for energy while we lift weights, they burn stored fat between exercises and during rest periods.

And just so we're clear: it only qualifies as a "rest period" if you're working hard before and after it. So get moving!

2
Fewer Sick Days

Plain and simple, those of us who train regularly have stronger immune systems than people who do not. This isn't a license to work yourself into the ground—or into overtraining. But with adequate rest and nutrition, active individuals have been shown to get sick less often. This allows you to save up your sick days and use them wisely—like for heading to the beach, rather than being laid up in bed with the flu! Just be sure to practice your fake cough in case the office calls.

3
Improved Balance

Whoopsies, down you go! Have you caught yourself taking a slight stumble—or tumble—here or there and wondered why? If your balance is a bit off, and it's not just because of the sky-high platforms you wear, it could be because as we age, our ability to balance decreases. This has a lot do with the loss of fast-twitch muscle fibers—the kind that get trained in explosive weight training and sprinting. Sense a trend developing here?

Excess weight also has plenty to do with poor balance. And as I mentioned in my last column , lean muscle burns calories day-in and day-out—35-50 calories for every pound you gain. Fat can't say that. So don't fear muscle; wrap yourself in it!

4
Healthier Joints

A common misconception is that people who exercise frequently are more likely to get arthritis because they "overwork" their joints. However, the opposite is more often true: people who live sedentary lifestyles have a higher risk of osteoarthritis, particularly as they lose muscle mass over time. Lifting weights is a great preventative strategy, because strong muscles are needed to support our joints. For women in particular, strength training can also help maintain bone mass and density, which along with increased balance, can help minimize fall risks and osteoporosis.

The thousands of senior citizens who go to gyms regularly know that weight training is directly connected to moving, feeling, and living better. Don't wait until retirement to discover it for yourself. A well-rounded physical lifestyle simply must include resistance training! Got it? Spread the word. Ready, set, lift!