Most people think strength training is for serious athletes. But working out to increase your muscle strength and build your muscles actually has some more surprising benefits besides just getting more toned. Strength training can actually benefit your heart more than cardio workouts can. Who knew?
Learn the 6 different ways that strength training can positively affect your health below.
1. It can improve your mental health and mood
Relatively recent research (O’Connor et. al 2010) has shown that moderate-intensity resistance training can reduce anxiety, can improve brain function (specifically memory and memory related tasks), can reduce chronic fatigue, can decrease depression, can improve sleep, can improve self-esteem, and can increase overall mental health through nerve cell regeneration, an increase in neurotransmitters, and more efficient oxygen delivery to the brain. Both an increased blood flow to the brain and increased hormones, like norepinephrine and dopamine, is what is causing strength training to enhance your overall mood and mental health.
2. It can lower your risk for diabetes
There are two places your body stores carbohydrates - in your muscles and in your liver. If you don’t have much muscle mass then your body can’t store all the carbs it needs to and they end up being stored in your bloodstream. This raises your blood glucose levels. But if there is enough muscle mass, then the carbs go into your muscles and are used when you exercise - through either strength training or cardio exercises. The important thing to note here is that you can burn carbs through both types of exercises but you need strength training to create more muscle mass and therefore decrease blood glucose levels. And the good news is that you don’t need to do much strength training to see a change in glucose levels. People over the age of 60 only need to do low intensity strength training twice a week for 16 weeks to see significant improvements.
3. It can improve symptoms of kidney disease
The biggest side effect of chronic kidney disease is muscle wasting. Strength training just 3 times a week creates significant improvement in muscle strength and can combat the symptoms of kidney disease. It can also relieve other symptoms of kidney disease like shortness of breath, itching, and muscle spasms. Research at the University of Leicester found that strength training increased leg strength by 37% and muscle size by 9% in a study of chronic kidney disease patients.
4. It can prevent heart disease
Strength training is often overlooked for its importance in cardiovascular health. However, strength training must be just as good, if not better, at improving heart health than cardio exercises. How so? Strength training can decrease blood pressure more so than cardio exercises, it decreases cholesterol and triglyceride levels, it decreases visceral fat by increasing your body’s metabolic rate, and it can also improve your quality of sleep. Sleep is important because lack of sleep can increase visceral fat levels and reduce insulin sensitivity and metabolism. Recent research has found that weekly strength training can reduce your risk of developing conditions that raise your risk of heart disease, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, by up to 70%.
5. It can prevent dementia/Alzheimer’s
Not only does strength training help build muscles, it also helps build brain cells as well. Researchers have found that moderate intensity strength training increases the gray matter in your brain, or the sections of your brain that connect the different lobes of your brain. The gray matter is filled with synapse connections and is extremely important in neurological health. Many studies have found a connection between decreased gray matter and diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. A study in Sweden found that women with higher fitness levels were 88% less likely to develop dementia compared to women with average fitness. Women with lower fitness had a 41% higher risk of developing dementia than women with average fitness. Another study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that strength training provided the best results in memory and cognitive behaviors for people already showing signs of cognitive impairment. This means that adding in strength training (and other cardio exercises) can stave off dementia in people who are already exhibiting precursors of the disease.
6. It can increase your balance and mobility
Falling is the leading cause of injury and death for people over the age of 65. As we age, we lose some of our balance and fine motor skills and this can lead to slipping or falling, which can then lead to further complications if someone falls and breaks bones, etc.. Weak lower leg strength is the biggest factor in causing falls says the CDC so more focus needs to be paid to your quads and glutes, the muscles that help stabilize you and help you stand up. Research in the British Medical Journal found that seniors who include 3 times weekly strength training see their likelihood of falling decrease by one third.
So what can you do at home?
Strength training doesn’t need to be intimidating. You can do almost everything at home with only your own body weight - no gyms, minimal equipment, and on your own schedule. Below is some important information to know about strength training.
● One rep is one completed motion of the exercise from start to finish. For a biceps curl, this would be starting with your arm at your side, raising the forearm towards your shoulder, and then releasing it back down to the starting position.
● 12-15 reps of the same exercise is good for moderate intensity strength training and is called a set
● A good amount of training would be 3 sets of 12-15 reps each.
● It is important to rest between sets. At least 2 minutes to let your body recover.
● A circuit is doing multiple exercises in a row as a round and then resting. This would be 12-15 reps of exercise 1, 12-15 reps of exercise 2, 12-15 reps of exercise 3, etc. for 5-6 different exercises. All of these done in a row would be called a round. The goal would be to do three rounds with rest in between rounds.
● Prioritize good form above everything else. Don’t add more reps or more weight unless your form is correct.
● Start with just your own bodyweight and as your body strengthens and this begins to feel easy, you can then add small weights like resistance bands or dumbbells.
● Try to do strength training exercises 3-4 times a week, not on consecutive days. The days in between should be for cardio exercises.
● If you do feel very sore, give yourself extra rest days as needed and back off during the next workout.
● Begin with a 5 to 10 minute warm-up of light cardio (walking/running in place, etc.). Warming up is extremely important in older adults.
● Start out with 10-15 minute exercises and slowly work your way up to 30-60 minute exercises per day.
● See your doctor before trying workouts if you have any pain, injuries or other conditions you're dealing with. Take your time with the moves and only add weights or resistance when you feel comfortable with the exercises.
If you want to start adding strength training to your routine, speak to your doctor or a personal trainer. They will be able to create a personalized workout plan for you based on your age, current strength, limitations, etc. Not everyone is the same so picking exercises that are right for you is very important to mitigate any potential injuries.
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