You know that you should train with weights for the sake of your muscles and your bones. Perhaps you’re even aware that working out with weights can boost your mood. But whether you’ve been training for years or are just setting foot inside a gym for the first time, there are surprising added benefits to lifting those dumbbells. Here’s the latest on the top 10 bonus health benefits you’ll get from weight training.
1. You’ll Take Fewer Sick Days
“An active person has a stronger immune system — as long as you don’t overdo it,” says Scott Mazzetti, Ph.D., assistant professor at Salisbury University in Maryland. A small Japanese study measured the natural killer-cell activity (NK cells attack sickness-causing cells) of healthy college-aged women after eight weeks of resistance training (three to four sessions per week) and found a significant increase compared to the non-exercise group. This offers scientific credence to what we already know: People who do regular resistance training (without overtraining) get sick less often.
2. You’ll Build Healthier Joints
There’s a common myth that people who exercise a lot — such as marathon runners and fitness competitors — are more likely to get arthritis because they overwork their joints. But the opposite is true. According to the Arthritis Foundation, sedentary lifestyles are a leading cause of osteoarthritis. Lifting weights is a great preventive strategy. Strong muscles support your joints.
3. You’ll Flatten Your Abs
You know that weight training helps to burn fat and build muscle, thereby boosting metabolism. But there is scientific evidence that it can help stop the spread of belly fat. A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition had overweight women (ages 25 to 44) engage in twice-weekly strength-training sessions while a control group did aerobic activity. The strength-training group lost more body fat in total, but they also had far less abdominal fat increases than the control group. Since abdominal fat is one of the most dangerous kinds of fat (linked to metabolic syndrome and heart disease), it’s even more important to blast it away.
4. You’ll Equalize Your Fore And Aft
Daily life tends to make you front-oriented: You work on your computer, drive, sit, watch television, read, cook, eat and do housework all facing or bending forward, which makes for a muscle imbalance and can lead to injuries. Over time, your front muscles become tighter and less flexible, while your back muscles become longer and weaker. A good total-body weight-training program can help balance you out and help you avoid injury. Plus, your posture will be so terrific you’ll walk into a room exuding poise and vigor.
5. You’ll Lower Your Blood Pressure
It’s widely known that cardio can help reduce blood pressure, but research has also confirmed that just an hour of strength training per week can reduce blood pressure enough to drop stroke risk by 25 percent.
6. You’ll Improve Your Balance
Have you ever caught yourself off-balance and about to fall? As you age, you lose fast-twitch muscles cells, which generate the power that helps you balance. But you can build those cells back up with explosive weight training. Scientific studies show that balance can be recovered through strength training, and even more so through weight loss, which can occur with weightlifting.
7. You’ll Gain Strength Without Bulk
The best way to build long, lean and strong muscles while torching body fat is to target fast-twitch muscles with strength training, according to research conducted by Dr. Mazzetti. His study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise suggests that you should contract your muscles explosively and rapidly as you lift. Explosive muscle contractions burned more calories during squats. “Explosive weight training will make you longer and leaner,” Mazzetti says. It’s a more effective way to build strength and power, and it won’t make you look like the Incredible Hulk because women lack the testosterone to bulk up like men.
8. You’ll Deal With Diabetes
There is evidence that an accumulation of too much fat inside muscles can lead to Type 2 diabetes, which is currently close to epidemic proportions in the U.S. Research has shown that overweight women who do resistance training can reduce the fat inside their muscles, thereby altering their fat metabolism. When you’re lifting, your muscles are using glycogen for energy; during the rest period in between exercises, your muscles then burn the stored fat. So weight training, done right, can be just as effective as aerobic exercise in controlling diabetes. And if you combine the two, imagine what can happen.
9. You’ll Reduce Your Risk Of Breast Cancer
Research suggests that regular exercise can reduce your breast cancer risk by as much as 20 to 40 percent. Boosting muscular strength and concomitant reduction in body fat can lower estrogen levels, which may help reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. Research also shows that twice-weekly progressive weightlifting is safe for women with lymphedema (a common side effect of breast cancer treatment). Resistance exercise may also help patients reduce fatigue and combat depression.
10. You’ll Boost Athletic Performance
Want to rock at soccer, basketball or tennis? Resistance training can improve your performance in any sport or fitness activity by building the powerful muscles needed for kicking, dribbling or serving, or hiking, climbing a wall or running through mud (hello, you mud and obstacle competitors). You still need to practice your sport: For example, to be a great swimmer, you need to swim. But you can also do resistance exercises that mimic a swimming stroke, or if you’re a runner, exercises that will help you develop those fast-twitch muscles in your legs. Adding weights to your routine will make you a better and stronger athlete.