When most people think of strength training, they think about the visual impact: building more muscle, losing body fat, changing body shape, etc. What they don’t realise is that the physical changes that we see are just the tip of the iceberg. The real benefits (which scientific research has now demonstrated) are far greater than most people could possibly conceive.
The real issue embedding most people’s misguided view for strength training is that the media typically exposes us to the extremes. If you were to ask most people on the street how they would picture a weightlifter or somebody who regularly lifts weights, you may get recollections of men with blood pouring out their nose from lifting 1000lbs and steroid abusing male and female bodybuilders who are just as unhealthy as many obese individuals. When most people inform their doctor or family that they are weight training they typically get the same response: “But you’ll get too big!” or “you only need to do aerobics for heart health”. Unfortunately these misconceptions have emulated from years of stigma, myths and stereotypes.
How about the 40-year-old mum or the 50-year-old office worker who just wants to get in better shape and improve their health? Lifting weights won’t just make you stronger and more muscular. Used and programmed correctly it has the potential to literally transform your life and your health.
Here are just a few examples of the positive impacts of strength training:
- Metabolic functions are boosted. Your ability to handle insulin and elevated blood glucose is significantly increased. Your risk of diabetes and all the secondary diseases that come with it are drastically reduced due to this greater handling capacity. . The impact for those who build even just a few pounds of muscle are actually far greater than those who just participate in aerobic sports. In fact, because of the increased carbohydrate consumption typically associated with prolonged aerobic training, metabolic resistance can actually be more likely, particularly in later years. This is truer for those with high training volume (e.g. marathon runners, triathletes etc.) who pile on the pasta, rice, carb gels and glucose drinks. Aerobic training certainly has a place but I would argue that the correct resistance training programme has far greater potency when it comes to metabolic health improvements. It also causes less oxidative stress to the body.
- Your bone density greatly increases. Osteoporosis and bone disease is rife within Western society. The average person loses 1% of their bone mass every year from the age of 30 and quality of life is massively reduced in those who find moving painful because of bone demineralisation. Want to avoid fractures and severe bone degeneration? Get lifting and strengthening those bones alongside your muscles!
- Your immune system is dramatically improved. Strength training has been shown to have more of an immune boosting effect than traditional aerobic exercise. The cortisol release from strength training is much lower than that of somebody hammering away on the treadmill every day. When people think about improving their immune function they think it’ll expose them to less frequent colds and tummy bugs. This is true, but the real value in regulating and managing your immune system is reducing your risk of the big time auto immune diseases, such as MS, ALS and even cancerous conditions in which the immune system is dramatically impaired or has become dysregulated. Many modern day health issues such as thyroid conditions, and arthritis are now considered to have an autoimmune/inflammatory component, so anything to improve your immune function puts you in a much healthier position. Poor immune function even in earlier years is potentially a precursor to more serious issues later in life. Lymphatic tissue which carries a great deal of our immune cells has to rely on movement which acts as a pump. Good nutrition and exercise in general are therefor not just a positive but an absolute essential if you want to live a healthy life.
- Your neuromuscular health is improved. Increased neural and nervous system adaptations come about as a result of training specific movement patterns with resistance, and greater neuromuscular health is associated with greater wellbeing, longevity and overall quality of life. Improving the strength of your neuromuscular system not only improves your coordination but also has been shown to dramatically reduce the incidence of trips and falls in all populations (most significantly the elderly). This increased neuromuscular activity has also been shown to upregulate certain genes which optimise oxygen uptake, brain health and the rebuilding of damaged or irregular tissue. Optimising your CNS is another underappreciated component of health!
There are many more points I could add to this list but just these few key ones should be enough to convince even the most stubborn of people that strength training is an absolute essential. Strength training is so much more than just improving body composition and it is an unfortunate fact that most people cannot see the true value and this is further compounded by the myriad of myths and misconceptions. Many people are guilty of this misguided view, even many doctors!
Once you look past all the social media fitness models, bodybuilders and strongmen (the extremes), you can see that strength training, aside from nutrition, could actually prove to be mankind’s best, most powerful yet most underutilised medicine. It is for this very reason that I actively encourage everybody I love and care for to participate in some form of resistance training, irrespective of their age, gender or abilities and I would implore you to make a start as well!