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5 Benefits Of Strength Training That You Probably Don’t Know About… But Should

I get a lot of questions from both women and men about strength training and whether it’s really necessary if a person is doing other types of “recreational” exercise.

And a lot of people still believe that if they don’t want to look like a bodybuilder, they shouldn’t perform strength training.  But not lifting weights (strength training) because you’re afraid of looking like a bodybuilder is like not driving your car because you have a fear of becoming a NASCAR driver.

Sure, consistent strength training improves your body image and physical appearance. But performing regular strength training over time has deeper, far-reaching  benefits than most people realize.  After doing my homework, perhaps I can give you a bit of a larger perspective about strength training so you don’t just think it is designed to exclusively elevate your body image.

1) Lower abdominal fat. In a 2014 study published in the research journal Obesity, Harvard researchers followed 10,500 men over the course of 12 years and found that strength training is more effective at preventing increases in abdominal fat than cardiovascular exercise.  In fact, when people incorporate strength training into their exercise routine, they not only burn calories, but increase lean muscle mass, which stimulates their metabolism.  Muscle mass is a major determiner of your resting metabolic rate, or the number of calories the body burns per day to sustain physiologic functions.

2) Better cardiovascular health. Recent studies suggest that strength training also directly impacts the heart. For example, 2013 research in the Journal of Applied Physiology demonstrates that men who regularly strength train have better-functioning HDL, or good cholesterol, compared with those who don’t. Strength training also improves blood pressure and triglyceride levels similarly to cardiovascular exercise, but it has even greater benefits on HDL. And 2015 research published in The Lancet medical journal shows that grip strength (a marker for total-body muscle health) more accurately predicts death from heart disease than blood pressure does.

3) Controlled blood sugar levels. Strength training is something that more and more endocrinologists are recommending to patients with Type 2 diabetes. A 2013 review published in the journal BioMed Research International shows that, in addition to building muscle, strength training also improves the muscle’s ability to take in and use glucose, or blood sugar and thus, help keep blood sugar level in better balance. How?  Strength training improves the function your cells to pick up a lot more glucose from the blood and transport it into muscle, thereby decreasing blood sugar levels.

4) Reduced cancer risk. Visceral fat not only increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes, but it can also promote cancer development. Research from the journal Oncogene published in 2017 show that visceral fat cells produce high levels of a cancer-triggering protein called fibroblast growth factor-2, or FGF2.  And according to 2017 research published in Therapeutic Advances in Medical Oncology, muscle mass is a strong predictor of cancer treatment outcomes. Muscle wasting is a common complication of cancer treatment and is associated with a higher risk of chemotherapy toxicity, faster tumor progression and lower survival rates.

5) Boosted brain health. Strength training can improve brain power across a lifetime, but the effects are perhaps the strongest in older adults suffering from cognitive decline. In one 2016 study in the Journal of American Geriatrics, when men and women ages 55 through 86 with mild impairment performed twice-weekly weight training for six months, they significantly improved their scores on cognitive tests. However, when participants spent their workouts just stretching or walking, their cognitive test scores declined.

BONUS BENEFIT: Ultimately, we are all looking to have a longer  healthier lifespan. One of strength training’s many “hidden” benefits include just that. The 2015 study in The Lancet found that grip strength accurately predicts death from any cause and, according to a 2017 Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care study, compared to body mass index or BMI, rebuilding loss lean muscle mass through consistent high-intensity strength training better measures a person’s overall health.

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