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Man strength training with kettlebell.

What is the best type of exercise for health, longevity, and weight management?

Most people would respond to that question with “running” or “cardio.”

We disagree. Without question, we believe strength training is the most important form of exercise for anyone at any age.

Though weight training does help you look better, that benefit is minor compared to the other health benefits of strength training.

Here are nine health and fitness benefits of weight training: 

1. Muscle is Your Quality-of-Life Savings Account

The more muscle you have as you enter later adulthood, the longer you’ll be able to carry on the activities you love to do today.

You likely understand the importance of a financial retirement account. It allows you to carry on similar living conditions after you no longer earn a paycheck for working. It can also serve as a massive emergency account in the event that you face significant financial issues.

Muscle is a retirement account for physical function.

At a certain age, you’ll start losing muscle faster than you can build it. Or, perhaps you’ll face a medical emergency like a degenerative disease or cancer, which causes rapid tissue loss. If you don’t have muscle to spare when that time comes, it could have significant consequences.

In the case of degenerative diseases, it isn’t the disease itself that usually causes one’s demise — it’s the rapid tissue loss that goes along with it.

Once you’ve lost enough skeletal muscle, your body breaks down other muscle tissues, like your heart. The rapid loss of muscle from states like cancer or cardiac cachexia can cause an earlier death than the disease itself.

Your level of lean body mass (muscle) is one of the most significant factors in longevity.

Muscle mass is an independent predictor of all-cause mortality in older adults. The more muscle mass you have, the lower your risk of dying.

2. Muscle Increases Your Carbohydrate Capacity

The ketogenic diet has been all the rage the past few years.

Though excessive intakes of carbs can contribute to prediabetes, diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome, the other factor is the loss in storage capacity for carbs in the average person. Well, it’s actually glycogen when it’s stored in muscle tissue, but you get the point.

Muscle is your primary storage space for carbohydrates.

When your muscles shrivel up from a lack of strength training, your ability to handle carbs fades away too. A progressive loss of muscle combined with excessive carbs can cause prediabetes and diabetes.

The reality is, you don’t need to follow a ketogenic diet for the rest of your life to keep your blood sugar under control. It could just be a short-term solution — combined with strength training — to get you going in the right direction.

Instead of shunning carbs for the rest of your life, you want to build up your storage space for them, and make use of the carbs throughout the week through strength training.

How do you build up your capacity for storing carbs? You build muscle!

Let’s address one other misconception:

Diabetes is not just about being overweight or obese. It’s about how little muscle you have relative to the carbs you consume. In fact, about 20 percent of those with type 2 diabetes are at a normal weight.

You can look “thin” in street clothes and still be prediabetic or diabetic because you don’t lift much weight other than your grocery bags and laptop computer. “Thin” does not equate to “healthy.”

3. Resistance Training Improves Cardiovascular Health

You mean I can help my heart without having to run? Yes, that’s exactly what we’re saying. Actually, excessive running or cardio can be bad for your heart.

Strength training causes a temporary shortage of oxygen in the muscles you use. Lactate accumulates, which causes your muscles to burn.

To take the lactate away from, and deliver more oxygen to your working muscles, your heart beats harder and faster. Your stroke volume improves and your resting heart rate drops.

Research also shows that resistance training improves the health of your blood vessels.

The cardiovascular benefits of strength training are similar to endurance training without the negative impact of increased inflammation, overuse injuries, elevated cortisol, or reduced testosterone.

4. Weight Training Improves Bone Density

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation:

  • A woman’s risk of fracture is equal to her combined risk of getting breast, uterine, and ovarian cancer.
  • Men are more likely to break a bone due to osteoporosis than to get prostate cancer.
  • A quarter of 50-plus-year-old hip fracture patients die within a year of the fracture.
  • Six months after a hip fracture, only 15 percent of patients can walk across a room without assistance.

Dense bones should support your weight when you jump, trip, or slip. The lower your bone density, the more likely it is that you’ll break something.

Your body needs macronutrients and micronutrients such as magnesium, vitamins D and K, calcium, and protein, which provide the raw materials to build bone. 

However, if you don’t strength train, you don’t stress your skeletal system enough to do anything with the raw materials. 

This is one of the reasons we cringe when we see people ask for advice about a health problem, and the only answer they get from others it to take some supplements. That’s like someone who wants to build a home spending more and more money on wood, concrete, pipes, and other supplies, but not hiring any contractors, and then wondering why their pile of supplies hasn’t turned into a house.

Your body doesn’t build bone unless it gets the stimulus that it needs to, which comes from resistance training.

5. Resistance Training Improves Coordination and Reduces Joint Pain

Watch a toddler try to stand, walk, run, or jump. It’s hilarious. They haven’t developed coordination between their muscles and nervous system, so they move in awkward and amusing ways.

As a toddler grows, he or she learns to jump, skip, hop, squat, and perform other movements adults take for granted. Unfortunately, if adults take that movement ability for granted too much, they lose what they have. Too much sitting and you lose your ability to move correctly.

Eventually, you can’t squat properly, and need to hang onto a toilet just to sit on it without losing your balance. Or, you need to take a painkiller to deal with your back pain after carrying your groceries into your home.

A simple squat that a four-year-old can do flawlessly becomes a painfully awkward movement for someone who’s spent years sitting too much and moving too little.

When you can’t move right, you’re more prone to falling. And if you’re among the many who lack bone density, when you fall, you break.

No matter your age, you can regain a significant amount of coordination and movement proficiency you lost.

On top of all that, one of the main reasons people experience lower back, knee, and hip pain is that they don’t have a balance of muscle throughout their body.

For example, if you don’t squat, lunge, and do other movements to strengthen your glutes, it leads to tension in your hips, hip flexors, lower back, and upper back. Weak glutes can also lead to knee pain because your quads (the front of your thighs) have to do all the work in moving you around.

Ironically, “bad knees” are the number one excuse not to strength train, which can actually be the solution to minimizing the knee pain. 

A loss of muscle throughout the back can lead to shoulder pain, neck pain, and headaches, too.

Strength training takes more effort than swallowing an NSAID to dull your pain, but the NSAID isn’t curing anything. The NSAID just helps you tolerate the pain while your problem gets worse.

6. Strength Training Improves Mobility

Flexibility is a measure of how far you can move through a range of motion. Mobility is how far you can move through a range of motion with a sense of muscular control over the movement.

When you follow a well designed weight-training program — and use good technique — you move your muscles, under tension, through a full range of motion.

As your strength improves, your nervous system allows you to move through a greater range of motion under tension.

Eventually, you gain not only flexibility, but the ability to control your body as you move through a greater range of motion.

That’s important for sports, but also for everyday movement, from grabbing stuff out of the trunk of your car to wrestling with your grandchildren.

7. Weight Training Improves Body Composition

Weight training is way more powerful for minimizing body fat than spending hours each week on a treadmill, stepmill, or elliptical. Why?

Dropping body fat isn’t just about accumulating calorie counts on a treadmill dashboard like it’s a pinball machine. It’s about changing the way your body uses the food you eat, and modifying the way your metabolism works, even while at rest.

Strength training training stimulates testosterone and growth hormone production, helps you lower cortisol levels, improves your capacity for storing carbohydrates, and over time, helps you displace the fat on your arms and legs with dense, firm muscle.

Not only does resistance training lead to lower body fat levels, but research shows it specifically helps lower belly fat, or visceral fat, which is the most insidious form of fat you can have on your body.

One pound of additional muscle mass burns about 10 extra calories each day at rest. That might not sound that impressive, but the greater benefit comes from the increase in exercise capacity that pound of muscle can produce.

More muscle means you can lift more weight and burn even more energy, which helps lead to lower body fat.

8. Resistance Training Builds Your Resilience to Stress

Strength training is a stress. In order to progress, you have to recover from that stress, and then face a slightly more challenging stress the next time.

Over the months and even years that you train, you increase your capacity for physical and mental stress, and train your body to bounce back from greater levels of stress than before.

Your body handles cortisol better while raising testosterone and growth hormone levels.

More than ever, people have anxiety about almost everything. They believe they’re victims of everyone around them. They mistake normal challenges of adulthood for “struggle.”

We need to learn how to handle stress with a little “suckituptitude” rather than try to avoid it all. Weight training can do that.

The act of facing a new and greater stress, recovering and adapting, and then facing an even greater stress builds resilience. It’s also a great tool for helping people overcome adrenal fatigue.

9. Resistance Training Acts as the Best Personal Development Training System

There isn’t a personal development book on the planet that can teach you the lessons of perseverance, resilience, discipline, and consistency while building physical and mental strength like weight training can.

Rather than reading about or listening to how to change your body and mind through a book, course, or seminar, you take action to transform yourself through the process of your training program.

We’ve seen so many people transform themselves from the outside in, as they develop characteristics they’ve never had, such as:

  • Confidence
  • Fortitude
  • Discipline
  • Determination
  • Perseverance
  • Strength (mental as well as physical)
  • Stamina
  • Resilience

Why is it so effective?

Because you intentionally face and overcome a greater resistance than you did in the past, and do it in a way where you get immediate feedback about whether you succeed or fail.

Your ability to overcome resistance in any area of your life is the key to success.

Rarely is a lack of success due to a lack of skills or knowledge. It’s almost always a lack of willingness to embrace the discomfort that goes along with the process. 

In a world where everyone wants things as safe, comfortable, and easy as possible, we need some discomfort, pain, and challenge or we end up weak in body and mind.

That’s what resistance training is all about.

Strength training is the ultimate personal, professional, and physical development tool.

Summary

There are no shortcuts with strength training — you either do the work or you don’t.

Bigger clothes, wearing the right colors, or standing “just right” for a photo might help hide things for a while. But the long-term effects of muscle and bone loss, poor posture, uncontrolled blood sugar, and excess body fat eventually leave a mark that leads to a need for medication and a lower quality of life.

There’s a lot you can’t control in life, and exercising is no guarantee you won’t face something extreme and unexpected.

However, if you consistently follow a great strength training program, you dramatically increase the odds of a much higher quality of life for years, or even decades, to come.

Fitzgerald SJ, Blair S. Muscular fitness and all-cause mortality: prospective observations. J Phys Act Health. 2004;1:17-18.

Hagerman F, Walsh S, Staron R, et al. Effects of high-intensity resistance training on untrained older men: strength, cardiovascular, and metabolic responses. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2000;55:8336-8346.

Ibanez J, Izquierdo M, Arguelles I, et al. Twice weekly progressive resistance training decreases abdominal fat and improves insulin sensitivity in older men with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2005;28:662-667.

Jensen J, Rustad PI, Kolnes AJ, Lai YC. The Role of Skeletal Muscle Glycogen Breakdown for Regulation of Insulin Sensitivity by Exercise. Front Physiol. 2011;2:112.

Hunger GR, Bryan DR, Wetzstein CJ, et al. Resistance training and intra-abdominal adipose tissue in older men and women. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002;34:1025-1028.

Preethi S, Karlamangla AS. Muscle Mass Index as a Predictor of Longevity in Older-Adults. Am J Med. 2014;127(6):547-553.

Strasser B, Schobersberger W. Evidence of resistance training as a treatment therapy in obesity. J Obes. 2011;482564.

Trappe S, Williamson D, Godard M, Gallagher P. Maintenance of whole muscle strength and size following resistance training in older men. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001;33:S147.

Treuth MS, Hunger GR, Kekes-Szabo T, et al. Reduction in intra-abdominal adipose tissue after strength training in older women. J Appl Physiol. 1995;78:1425-1431.

Treuth MS, Ryan AS, Bratley RE, et al. Effects of strength training on total and regional body composition in older men. J Appl Physiol. 1994;77:614-620.

Wescott WL. Resistance Training is Medicine Effects of Strength Training on Health. Curr Sport Med Rep. 2012;11(4):209-216.

Westcott WL. Strength training for frail older adults. J Active Aging. 2009;8:52-59.

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