Increasingly, medical experts are recommending strength training to improve physical and mental health and help prevent a broad array of medical conditions. Strength training, which includes weight training and other weight-bearing exercises, involves working with resistance machines and free weights (such as barbells and dumbbells), as well as using the body’s own weight as in push-ups, squats and chin-ups. Resistance bands or cables and other supplementary equipment may also be used.
Strength training can prevent or diminish a number of health problems. Some of the most extensively researched are osteoporosis prevention, arthritis relief, cardiovascular benefits, insulin metabolism, injury prevention, sleep benefits, mood enhancement, increased stamina, weight loss and overall slowing of the aging process.
A study of older adults found that after 16 weeks of strength training, pain from severe osteoarthritis (knee) was decreased by 43%. Similar effects have been found with rheumatoid arthritis. Overall, symptom relief was as good as or better than that achieved with medications.
Bone Loss and Muscle Loss
Weight-bearing exercise helps to prevent osteoporosis, the crippling bone loss that afflicts many people as they grow older, as well as loss of muscle mass as people age. This enables weight trainers to stay physically active and strong, and helps to prevent injury caused by muscle weakness. People can enhance the bone-protective effects of weight-bearing exercise by eating a diet high in calcium, iron, folate, phosphorus, and vitamins D and K.
In addition to lowering blood pressure, by making the body leaner, strength training reduces the risk for cardiovascular disease, lowering the likelihood of suffering heart attacks and strokes. This protective effect has been found in so many studies that the American Heart Association now recommends strength training for patents in cardiac rehabilitation programs.
By decreasing body fat and bad cholesterol (low-density lipoproteins or LDL) and increasing good cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins or HDL), strength training lowers the risk for many health problems associated with insulin resistance including diabetes, a leading cause of blindness.
Strength training reduces the risk of injury in day-to-day life by increasing the strength of bone, ligaments and tendons, as well as enhancing muscle power, coordination and balance. Increasing muscle mass also helps protect joints against injury.
Those who strength train on a regular basis get a better night’s sleep and are less likely to suffer from insomnia. Sleep benefits of strength training are comparable to those obtained with medication, but without the side effects.
Studies have found that strength training can be as effective in treating depression as anti-depressant medications. Researchers don’t yet know whether this is because strength training causes biochemical changes in the brain or because people feel better psychologically when their bodies are stronger.
Strength training increases overall stamina. If you strength train regularly, you will be less inclined to fatigue, especially as you grow older.
Slowing the Aging Process
Research indicates that exercise slows aging. To get the most benefits, it is important to do both cardio exercise (i.e., running, swimming, walking, etc.) regularly and strength training two to three times a week.
Strength training can increase your metabolism by up to 15%, which will cause you to burn more calories even when not exercising. Muscle requires more calories to maintain than fat, so those with bigger muscles can eat more without gaining weight and lose fat more easily. Because weight training makes the body leaner, it also reduces the risk for certain cancers, diabetes, and other conditions linked to obesity.
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