Lifting weights helps you look good - we already know that. However, building muscle through weightlifting is incredibly beneficial for your health as well. Aside from helping you develop an incredible-looking body, building muscle through resistance training can actually reduce your risk of chronic diseases and help you live a longer, healthier life. In this article, we are going to review the many health benefits of lifting weights.
Spending time building muscle will make it easier for you to maintain weight loss and have a lean physique. It does so by two main mechanisms.
First, muscle mass is metabolically active, which means that it burns calories even at rest compared to fat, which is pretty metabolically inert. An increase in 1kg of muscle mass can result in an increased metabolic rate of ~20 kcals per day. This may not seem like much, but let’s say you build 5kg of muscle, that’s an increased metabolic rate of ~100 kcals per day, which can help it feel easier to maintain an appropriate energy balance.
Second, resistance training itself causes small tears in your muscles called microtrauma, which requires energy to repair resulting in an increased metabolic rate of up to 7% for several days after your training session. Of course, this is not an exact percentage, and the degree to which your metabolic rate is increased after training is going to depend on how hard you train and how much training you’re doing.
Nonetheless, your metabolism undoubtedly increases as a result of training with weights. Since having more muscle and lifting weights can help you burn more calories, in essence, it allows you to eat more calories without gaining weight, which makes losing or maintaining your weight much easier.
Age-Related Loss of Muscle
Let’s discuss the importance of maintaining muscle mass as we age. Sarcopenia refers to the age-related loss of muscle, which we all experience. There’s no way around it - the older you get, the more muscle you lose. Why does this matter?
Well, sarcopenia can lead to an increased risk of obesity, osteoporosis, chronic diseases, loss of physical function and quality of life, and ultimately, death. Imagine being 70 years old and barely being able to stand, let alone walk, because your muscles have wasted away. Nothing would be worse than being mentally healthy, yet trapped in a physically incapable body.
Guess what can prevent sarcopenia? Lifting weights. It doesn’t matter what age you start. Muscle is extremely adaptive and can grow in response to resistance training even if you’re not a young adult. In fact, resistance training has been shown to improve muscle mass even in 70-year-old adults who have pre-sarcopenia. Lifting weights is by far the most effective method to help prevent or reverse sarcopenia because there are no other modalities of exercise that are as beneficial for building muscle.
Glycemic and Cardiovascular Health
Resistance training can also help reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Age seems to be an independent predictor of glucose tolerance. In other words, as we age our body’s ability to handle glucose worsens. Thankfully, resistance training is one of the most beneficial things we can do to improve glycemic control (our blood sugar regulation).
For example, a 2002 study showed that a resistance training intervention alongside moderate weight loss was improved hemoglobin A1c concentrations and increased muscle mass to a greater extent than weight loss alone in overweight adults who were type 2 diabetics. Hemoglobin A1c is blood biomarker that tells you what your blood sugar average has been over the past several months and is one of the best indicators of your glycemic control.
The findings from this study are really interesting because they show that resistance training has additional benefits on top of weight loss for glycemic control. It’s well known that simply losing weight will improve your glycemic control If you’re overweight and have impaired glycemic control, but lifting weights can provide additional benefits independent of weight loss. Resistance training is beneficial for glycemic regulation because it can help improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin to help lower blood glucose. Furthermore, since lifting builds muscle and muscle is metabolically active, having more muscle means that the body burns more calories and uses more glucose for energy. This can also help improve glycemic control and reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Building muscle through resistance training also has cardiovascular health benefits. Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in the world. More people die from cardiovascular disease than any other cause of death. Some of the main cardiovascular benefits of resistance training include reducing blood pressure, improving blood lipids (increased HDL cholesterol, decreased LDL cholesterol), and improved vascular health. Now it’s important to note, the benefits of resistance training on cardiovascular health are not as pronounced as the benefits of aerobic exercise on cardiovascular health. Thankfully, you don’t have to pick one or the other. If you’re someone who wants to optimize cardiovascular health, there is evidence that doing both resistance training and aerobic training simultaneously may provide the greatest benefits.
One of the major benefits of lifting weights is its effects on bone density. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, nearly 10 million Americans have osteoporosis and another 44 million have low bone density. Our bones become weaker as a result of aging. Adults who don’t lift weights can experience 1-3% loss of bone density per year. That’s a lot! Unfortunately, older adults who fall and break a bone due to having low bone density have a pretty high risk of death within a year of their injury. This is a disease that can largely be prevented by simply lifting weights.
Lifting weights stimulates bone remodeling, which results in your bones growing thicker and stronger. Think of the effects of lifting on bone health similar to the effects of lifting on muscle size. Lifting makes your bones bigger and stronger, and it does the exact same thing to your bones. For example, a 2011 study found that bone mineral density of the spine and femur significantly increased after 40 weeks of resistance training in adults ages 55-75. You don’t even need to do a crazy amount of lifting either, these benefits can come from lifting just 2-3 per week. Furthermore, resistance training will help improve your bone health independent of your starting age; old adults benefit just as much as younger adults.
Lifting weights may also have some incredibly beneficial cognitive benefits. In 2010 study, the researchers wanted to see if resistance training could help with cognitive function in post-menopausal women between the ages of 65-75 years old. The resistance training program consisted of using weights and resistance machines, increasing the difficulty over time for one year. They found that women who participated in the resistance training program once or twice a week showed significant improvement on a cognitive test called the Stroop task. The Stroop task measures selective attention and cognitive flexibility, which are important components of executive function. The women who only did balance and tone exercises did not show the same level of improvement as those who performed resistance training, demonstrating that resistance training may have unique benefits for cognitive function.
These benefits seem to be due to the fact that resistance training may positively impact the concentration of particular “neurotrophic factors,” like brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which are just molecules that help promote the growth and health of brain cells. In fact there’s really great research suggesting that resistance training may be really helpful for reducing the risk of developing and/or symptoms associated with cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
By now you should be convinced that building muscle through resistance training is one of the best things you can do for your health and longevity. Lifting weights helps increase your energy expenditure, can help reduce the risk of sarcopenia, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis, and it has tremendous cognitive health benefits as well. Focusing on building muscle through lifting weights should be an absolute no brainer as part of your fitness routine.
Furthermore, resistance training is a fantastic tool to improve your self confidence and develop important skills that are transferable to other aspects of your life, like consistency and hard work. We may be biased, but we really think that there is no single modality of exercise that benefits as many different aspects of your health as much as resistance training. Hopefully, we’ve done a good job of convincing you that this is the case too!
Outwork Nutrition Recovery
Outwork Recovery contains ashwagandha, creatine, and other evidence-based ingredients to help you recover from hard training and build more muscle. 💪
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