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Adding strength training to your life can invite a myriad of health benefits, ranging from a healthier heart to a sunnier outlook. Our bodie...




Adding strength training to your life can invite a myriad of health benefits, ranging from a healthier heart to a sunnier outlook.

Our bodies are born to crave movement of any type, whether it’s running, jumping, climbing a tree or dancing. Indeed, our bodies know what’s good for them. These days, research seems to uncover a new, breathtaking benefit of exercise for our health almost daily, whether it’s helping us live longer, sleep better, weigh less or even feel happier.

We’ve long known that it’s critical to get in regular aerobic, or cardio, workouts like running, biking, brisk walking or swimming—those activities that cause us to get out of breath and make our hearts beat faster. But just as important is regularly doing exercises that strengthen our muscles, including strength and resistance training. These activities, from lifting weights or doing push-ups to using resistance bands or kettlebells, help keep our muscles functioning, supporting all the activities of our daily lives. And their longevity-boosting, agefighting effects help make fitness the closest thing we have to a fountain of youth.

Muscle strengthening has benefits for everyone, from body builders to octogenarians. In fact, any time is a good time to start. Research has demonstrated that even people in their 80s and 90s benefit from strength and resistance training, gaining better mobility, experiencing fewer falls and enjoying an improved quality of life overall. No matter where you’re at physically or how old you are, it’s clear that adding more strength training into your life will boost your health and fitness, and make your life better. It’s just that simple.

But what are strength and resistance training, exactly? Both are part of what the U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines define as “muscle-strengthening exercises”—those designed to improve muscle strength, tone, mass and endurance by causing the body’s muscles to work or hold against an applied force or weight. While muscle strengthening exercise is usually associated with lifting weights or other heavy objects, it also includes working with resistance bands, cable suspension training or even exercises that use your own weight to generate the resistance, such as push-ups and pull-ups, lunges, even tree climbing. The idea is to progressively overload your muscles, strengthening them and helping them work more efficiently. Plus, the foods that promote muscle development and contribute to recovery are healthful and nutrient-dense.

And, while you might be picturing a ripped, Incredible Hulk-esque man or woman lifting giant barbells, strength training doesn’t have to mean “bulking up” at all. Would-be Hulks need to train  heavily and adapt their diet to boost significant muscle growth—a process that requires a lot of time, energy and commitment. But for the rest of us, strength training is more about spending a few sessions a week creating a solid, muscular base of lean body mass that burns more calories and makes everyday activities easier.

Best of all, strength training is easy to work into your life. You don’t have to go to a gym, and you don’t need to make expensive equipment investments. It need not take more than a couple dumbbells or weights, a set of resistance bands, a exercise ball or kettlebell, or even using what you have on hand (cans of food, say). And unless you’re aiming for Hulk status, the time investment is manageable: the U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend doing a strength training workout just two to three times a week (along with at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity.

The investment in making your body stronger might be relatively small, but the gains are powerful. Here’s a roundup of what the latest science shows about what strength training can offer you.


And maybe a flatter belly, too. With consistent strength training, your muscles will become more dense—which can help you burn more calories and better manage your weight. In one study that put 40 men and women on a six-month program of weight training, researchers found that participants’ resting metabolic rate—the rate at which they burned calories all day long—increased, on average, by 7 percent. And, though the evidence is still not definitive, some research suggests that strength training is associated with less accumulation of “belly fat”—the visceral fat around the abdomen that’s associated with higher rates of diabetes, inflammation, and risk of heart disease.


Strength training workouts can also have benefits for bones, as muscles and tendons pull on and put stress on them, spurring bone-forming cells to become more active. That can result in stronger, denser bones, building up a stronger bank of bone tissue that can help delay or prevent osteoporosis later in life. Staying active can help stave off or even reverse the effects of sarcopenia—the slow muscle loss that occurs with aging. It’s estimated that after age 30 or so, if we don’t remain active, we can lose 3 to 5 percent of our muscle mass per decade—which, by the time we reach our 70s, can result in problems like slowed gait, falls, fractures and other scourges we associate with getting older.


Weight training can help your heart in several important ways, starting with its effects on helping you manage your weight. With a leaner body, your heart has less work to do and pumps more efficiently. Weight training can also improve overall circulation, as your muscles become more efficient at pushing blood through your veins and arteries, further reducing strain on your heart. Research confirms the benefits: A recent study from Iowa State University that looked at data from 13,000 adults found that those who included at least one weekly session of weight training (or accumulated up to an hour per week of weight training) had a significantly lower risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as death from any cause.


Research shows that strength training can have important effects on helping people with diabetes or insulin resistance better manage their blood sugar levels. Besides increasing the amount of metabolically active, glucose-fueled muscle tissue, strength training appears to boost muscles’ ability to take in glucose from the blood, resulting in lower blood sugar levels overall.


Strength training can help improve how your muscles cushion your joints, which can help manage joint pain and stiffness. One meta-analysis of 10 studies, published in the journal Rheumatology, reported that strengthening the muscle groups around troublesome joints significantly improved strength and functioning, and eased pain in people with osteoarthritis. And, of course, if you’re overweight, the training could help you lose a few pounds, resulting in less stress on your joints overall. (Note: If you have arthritis or other joint issues, make sure you clear any exercise program first with your doctor or physical therapist, to make sure you’re doing it safely.)


Several studies show that regular strength workouts can improve sleep—helping you fall asleep faster and wake up less during the night. Recently published findings from the German Health Update Survey, which tracked the health of some 23,000 German adults, found that those who regularly practiced strength training reported significantly better sleep quality. It’s also true that better sleep can go a long way toward improving your overall health and energy levels. As you grow stronger, you’ll find everyday activities like carrying groceries or laundry are easier to do, and you won’t be as fatigued in general.


The so-called “runner’s high” isn’t just for runners and other cardio exercisers: Strength training has also been shown to help the body release feel-good endorphins that enhance your sense of well-being. That can help take the edge off your worries and anxieties, as a recent study of 28 young adults with generalized anxiety disorder suggests. After two months of a twice-weekly resistance exercise program, subjects tested significantly lower on anxiety-symptom scales than a similar control group who didn’t get the exercise intervention. There may be positive effects in fighting depression as well: One 2018 review of 33 clinical trials found that adults who regularly strength trained were less likely to develop depression than those who didn’t. What’s more, there’s an indefinable boost in confidence as your body reaches measurable fitness goals and crushes them. You’ll find yourself moving more confidently and freely—and that can have positive effects on your mood and outlook, too.

It’s easy to start adding strength training to your life right now, no matter where you are. And when it comes to the results, it’s all good. Go at your own pace and feel the benefits unfold, faster than you might imagine. And as with all exercise, the benefits keep accruing. Better health, increased energy, more enthusiasm and more confidence are all within your reach. Grab your weights or resistance bands—or just some comfortable clothes— and let’s get started!