*'Strength Training' here refers to lifting weights.
The majority of people who go to gyms and participate in exercise want to look better. Whilst there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, often overlooked are the many health benefits associated with weight training. Most are unaware of just how beneficial weight training is for health and well being.
Often, more cardiovascular forms of exercise, such as jogging, cycling and walking are seen as 'healthy' forms of exercise. Indeed, the American College of Sports Medicine only included aerobic forms of physical activity in its 1995 guidelines on Physical Activity and Public Health. However, these guidelines were revised in 2007 to include 'muscle strengthening activity'. So here I provide you with some key benefits to lifting weights, beyond looking better....
Health Benefit 1. Strength Training Decreases Risk of Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Disease: Diabetes and Heart Disease represent two of the biggest health conditions we face today. However, Shiroma et al (2017) have found that, independent of aerobic exercise, strength training reduced the risk of both Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Disease. Anything that can help to alleviate the growing problem of diabetes and heart disease should be embraced wholeheartedly.
Health Benefit 2: Increased Bone Mineral Density: Resistance training can stimulate increased bone formation in young adults and prevent bone loss in older age. For example, Huovinen et al (2016) found that a 16 week resistance training intervention increased bone mineral density in elderly women. Loss of bone mineral density can be extremely problematic, especially as we age and become more frail. Therefore Huovinen et al (2016) suggest there is "an important role of continuous supervised resistance training for the prevention of osteoporotic fractures in elderly women". By lifting weights regularly throughout adult life we should expect to carry greater bone mineral density into old age, which will help to offset any losses that may occur.
Health Benefit 3: Increased Strength Reduces Risk of Injury: This is certainly more pertinent for those people participating in sports or the elderly population concerned with falling. Engaging the elderly population in resistance training can improve balance, prevent falls and reduce fear of falling (Kendrick et al, 2014). Anyone who participates in sport recreationally, or goes skiing every year, for example, will greatly benefit from strengthening muscles, joints, ligaments and bones. Making the body more robust will help in sports such as skiing and snowboarding, rugby, soccer, netball etc. where participants may fall or come into contact with one another. Beyond injury prevention, getting stronger will also greatly enhance your performance in your sport or activity.
Health Benefit 4: Resistance Training reduces the risk of Hypertension: Hypertension (high blood pressure) affects an estimated 43 million people in the US. A meta-analysis by Kelley & Kelley (2000) "supports the efficacy of progressive resistance exercise for reducing resting systolic and diastolic blood pressure in adults".
Health Benefit 5: Resistance Exercise in the Treatment of Lower Back Pain: Chronic lower back pain remains one of the most difficult and costly medical problems in the industrialised world (Carpenter & Nelson, 1999). Patients with chronic lower back pain who engage in strengthening exercises of the lumbar spine were found to experience a reduction in pain and symptoms. These improvements were found to be long-lasting and resulted in less re-utilisation of the health care system than more passive treatments (Carpenter & Nelson, 1999).
Whilst improving posture can be difficult with only a few hours spent in the gym a week, it can certainly help to train people to understand how to sit correctly and align their shoulders. One of the most important jobs a trainer can have is to improve a clients' quality of life by helping them understand what good posture is, how it feels, and training with correct posture throughout training sessions.
So beyond the aesthetic benefits regular weight training brings, there are also numerous health benefits which shouldn't be overlooked. This is why I believe regular strength training should form the basis of anyone's weekly exercise schedule, regardless of their goals.