We all know at this point that exercise is crucial to living a healthy life. It decreases the risk of disease, improves sleep, combats depression, and reduces stress.
However, fitness regimes often overlook one crucial aspect: strength-training. Here’s why you can drastically improve your physical and mental health by incorporating weightlifting into your routine.
1) Weightlifting increases bone density
Weightlifting has been proven to increase bone density and help ward off stress fractures and osteoporosis, a progressive bone disease that results in a decrease in bone mass and density. A study at McMaster University found that a year-long strength training program increased the spinal bone mass of subjects by 9%, while those who did not participate actually lost bone mass. Weight training also helps retain and assimilate calcium in your body.
2) Weightlifting increases muscle mass
The muscle you build from weightlifting isn’t just for show. Increased muscle mass prevents the onset of sarcopenia, which is the degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength. This has been deemed to be a major health concern and can start as early as your 20s. The good part is that sarcopenia is preventible and even reversible. Regardless of age, the best way to combat it is to build and maintain muscle.
3) Weightlifting lowers blood pressure
Conventional wisdom says people with hypertension (high blood pressure) should avoid weightlifting because it may temporarily raise blood pressure during a workout. However, the long-term benefits to blood pressure outweigh the risk of a temporary spike. A recent study took a group of men with stage 1 hypertension to lift weights 3x/week for 12 weeks. The result was a decrease in systolic and diastolic of 16mm and 12mm Hg, respectively, bringing them down to pre-hypertension levels.
4) Weightlifting burns excess calories
While cardio burns calories while you’re doing it, high intensity strength training allows for Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (or the afterburn effect). This refers to an elevated metabolism after exercise, allowing you to burn more calories long after the workout is finished. A 2003 study in Norway found that lifting heavier weights created a longer and more profound afteburn effect. Another study at Southern Illinois University found that exercisers who did a 15-minute resistance workout burned 100 extra calories a day for three days afterward.
5) Weightlifting improves posture
Bad posture is an epidemic these days. Weightlifting addresses this by allowing you to identify and correct muscle imbalances. It is also a necessity to maintain proper form while performing any lifts, which further promotes good posture with a neutral spine. This also forces you to work on mobility issues. When performing the squat for example, many people realize they lack adequate hip flexibility to reach the bottom.
6) Weightlifting decreases injuries
A common misconception is that weightlifting is dangerous and leads to harmful injuries. This is only true if excessive weight is used with improper form. Take a look at the following chart of injury rates for sports:
80% of injury cases occur due to a tendon, ligament or muscle not being strong enough to handle a stressful force. Weightlifting actually strengthens these ligaments and tendons. Stronger connective tissues and increased joint stability also prevents back pain and arthritis.
7) Weightlifting improves cognitive functions
Yes, lifting weights can actually keep your brain sharp. A study at the University of British Columbia assigned subjects to three groups: resistance training, aerobic training, or balance-and-tone training. At the end of six months, those who had participated in strength training outperformed the other groups on tests measuring attention, memory and higher-order brain functions like conflict resolution.
This happens because weight training leads to higher levels of recepter/effector communication, motor unit recruitment, and neural stimulation. When you train, you’re also training your central nervous system (CNS) which consists of the brain and spinal cord. The reason why Olympic lifters are able to lift the weights they do is because they’ve trained their CNS to adapt to such intense stress.
The implication of this is that weightlifting can potentially help offset Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, strokes, and other cognitive and neurological disorders.
Weightlifting is like a form of magic that cures you of the bad and leaves you with the good while physically transforming your body. It instills in you a sense of confidence and pride. It empowers you. It provides you with the knowledge that you’re bettering yourself, and it keeps you coming back. There’s no other feeling like picking up 200, 300, or 400lbs off the floor with your bare hands.
It’s never too early or late to start, and anyone at any fitness level can do it. Even children benefit enormously from resistance training. According to Dr. Faigenbaum, an expert on youth strength training, it is absolutely safe for young people and and does not stunt growth or lead to growth-plate injuries. Children develop a significant increase in motor-unit activation within their muscles after training and enjoy numerous neurological and physiological benefits. So what are you waiting for?
If you do incorporate weightlifting into your routine, just make sure you’re eating right and sleeping enough. The bulk of your recovery happens at night. Ensure that you maintain proper form during lifts. Get coaching if necessary. Don’t start too heavy – leave your ego aside. Don’t expect overnight gains, but don’t be discouraged. Slow progress is the name of the game.