Strength training is not just about building big biceps worth admiring in a mirror. Weight lifting and resistance training exercises strengthen and tone your muscles, while also offering a number of health benefits. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and the American Heart Association recommend that adults perform moderate to high intensity muscle strengthening activities involving all major muscle groups at least twice a week in addition to at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly.
Here are some of the benefits you’ll reap from lifting weights:
You’ll strength your muscles, bones and connective tissues. As you age, lean muscle mass naturally diminishes, and unless you do something about it, your body fat percentage increases. Performing strength training activities helps to increase or maintain muscle mass and preserve bone density. This can lower your risk for osteoporosis, fractures and injury. If you have joint pain or arthritis, strengthening the muscles around your joints makes it easier to perform everyday activities and may even help ease your pain.
You’ll burn more calories. When you have more muscle, you’ll burn more calories even at rest. This helps you maintain a healthy weight or can make it easier to lose weight if you’re overweight. Although exercise alone may not result in weight loss, weight training helps you achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
You’ll look better. Although a pound of muscle weighs as much as a pound of fat, the muscle takes up less physical space. In fact, a pound of fat takes up about 18 percent more space than the same pound of muscle. This means you’ll look trimmer if you strength train even at the same weight.
You may lower your risk of some diseases. Healthy lifestyle choices, such as following a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, sleeping well, reducing stress and avoiding tobacco, can help reduce your risk of a number of health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. One study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that weight lifting specifically may lower your risk of diabetes. The study found a 34 percent lower risk in men who lifted weights for 150 minutes per week. Another study found that blood pressure decreased up to 20 percent after 45 minutes of moderate-intensity strength training and the effects persisted for as long as 24 hours in people who regularly strength-trained, showing that lifting weights can have a positive impact on your heart health.
If you’re new to weight training, don’t be intimidated by the racks of weight in the gym. Although free weights are commonly used for strength training, you can also use weight machines, resistance bands or your own body weight. Push-ups, pull-ups, planks, squats or crunches all utilize your own body weight instead of dumbbells or hand-weights to strengthen your muscles. Don’t like the gym? That’s okay! Many strength training exercises can be done right in the comfort of your own home.