If your fitness goals include building bigger muscles and (finally!) getting that chiseled six-pack, it’s important to incorporate strength training exercises into your gym routine.
Even if muscle size isn’t your main focus, strength training can help you hit your health and wellness goals.
Check out these 8 science-backed benefits of strength training and incorporate it into your next gym session!
1. Decreased Abdominal Fat
If you spend hours on the treadmill or elliptical in hopes of hitting your health goals, it’s time to rethink your strategy.
A 2014 study published in the research journal Obesity shared how Harvard researchers followed 10,500 men over the course of 12 years and found that strength training was more effective at preventing increases in abdominal fat than cardiovascular exercise.
“When people incorporate strength training into their exercise routine, they not only burn calories but increase lean muscle mass, which stimulates the metabolism,” said Michael Rebold, director of integrative exercise sciences at Hiram College in Ohio.
2. Improved Cardiovascular Health
Did you know abdominal fat sits in and around your vital organs, including the heart? By preventing or reducing excess abdominal fat through strength training, you can improve heart health, and strength training workouts can help.
A 2013 research study in the Journal of Applied Physiology showed that young men who regularly strength train have better-functioning HDL, or good cholesterol, compared with those who don’t. Not only does strength training improve blood pressure and triglyceride levels, it has even greater effects on HDL.
In addition, 2015 research published in The Lancet, a weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal, showed that grip strength more accurately predicts death from heart disease than blood pressure does.
3. Maintenance of Healthy Blood Sugar Levels
A 2013 review published in BioMed Research International shows that, in addition to building muscle, strength training also improves the muscle’s ability to take in and use blood sugar.
“Resistance training is something we want anyone with type 2 diabetes to incorporate into their routine,” said Rebold. “In your muscle cells, you have these transporters that pick up glucose from the blood and deliver it to the muscle cells. Strength training improves their functioning to pick up a lot more glucose from the blood and into muscle, thereby decreasing blood sugar levels.”
4. Lowered Cancer Risk
According to a 2017 study 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.
By adding strength training to your fitness routine, you may lower your risk for developing cancer.
5. Reduced Risk of Injury
Having a good muscle base is important for all movement, balance, coordination and injury prevention. When muscles are too weak, it can put more stress on the connecting tendon and result in tendonitis.
Tendonitis is inflammation in a tendon and is commonly caused by overuse. Symptoms of tendonitis include pain, which worsens with movement, and swelling. Without proper care and treatment, the inflamed tendon could rupture and need surgery.
Need another reason to start strength training? A 2015 review published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found that it also increases the number and diameter of collagen fibrils in tendons. In layman’s terms, it increase tendons’ strength and helps prevent injury.
6. Improved Mental Health
Runner’s high may get a lot of hype, but strength training has shown to improve symptoms of clinical depression and anxiety. According to findings from Harvard Medical School, strength training provides people with an opportunity to overcome obstacles in a controlled, predictable environment, increasing mental resilience.
Maximize the anti-anxiety effects of strength training by using low to moderate weights that are lighter than 70% of what you can lift for one rep.
7. Increased Flexibility and Mobility
Do you stretch after every workout? It’s important to take your joints through their full range of motion during strength exercises. A 2017 study in Isokinetics and Exercise Science demonstrated that strength training improves flexibility in both men and women.
A previous 2006 study in the North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found that eccentric strength exercises, which emphasize muscle lengthening, rather than shortening, may provide the biggest benefit, improving hamstring flexibility twice as well as static stretching.
8. Enhanced Brain Health
While strength training may improve brain power throughout someone’s lifetime, it may be more effective for older adults suffering from cognitive decline.
A 2016 study in the Journal of American Geriatrics found that when men and women ages 55 through 86 with mild impairments performed twice-weekly weight training for six months, their cognitive test scores improved significantly.
The study also found that when participants spent their workout stretching, instead of strength training, their cognitive test scores declined.
Since high-intensity strength training increases the flow of blood, oxygen and other nutrients to the brain, it could be the reason for the improvement in cognitive test scores.
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Learn more about how strength training improves overall health and wellbeing here.
Also published on Medium.