Why Everyone Should Lift Weights

I do not say this lightly – the benefits of resistance training are so extensive, and so well-established, that in my opinion family doctors should prescribe weight training to all of their patients.  Did you know that 80 percent of people over the age of seventy-five cannot lift ten pounds?  This is what a bag of groceries, or a new grandchild, weighs.  The loss of muscle, referred to as sarcopenia, accelerates in men after about age 40 and in women after menopause.  All of us lose muscle mass as we age, but individuals who start out with more muscular strength will not suffer the ill effects of sarcopenia like those who start out with less.  This is not an issue of aesthetic appearance, but an issue of quality of life. Resistance Training Can Reverse the Aging Process A study by Melov and colleagues (2007) explored whether resistance training affects some of the gene expressions associated with muscle aging, thus reversing the aging process.  They compared two groups: active older adults (average age 68), and inactive younger adults (average age 24).  They felt that choosing active seniors and an inactive younger group would help them look at the effects of aging, rather than simple inactivity.  Both groups performed supervised strength training exercises at a fairly high intensity. Before starting the program, and after 26 weeks, both groups underwent muscle biopsies from which RNA could be extracted.  After 26 weeks, the researchers identified 170 age- and exercise-associated genes showing a reversal of their gene expression.  The most amazing thing about their results is that both the trained groups – older and younger – showed similar characteristics in gene expression!  Another significant finding was that mitochrondrial impairment (mitochrondria are the energy-producing cells of muscle fibres – their “furnace”) – normally seen with inactivity – was reversed in response to the six months of weight training. It is well-known that long-term resistance training is associated with a lower risk of age-related disease morbidity and mortality, and this study may help us understand why this is the case.

The Benefits of Weight Training

  • Weight training helps you lose fat, as muscle is metabolically active and helps you burn more calories at rest.  For each pound of muscle you gain, you will burn 35-50 more calories daily.  So, for example, if you gain three pounds of muscle and burn 40 extra calories per pound, you will burn 120 more calories per day, or approximately 3600 more calories per month.  This equates to a loss of 10 to 12 pounds in one year!
  • Weight training makes you stronger.  Even a moderate intensity strength training program will increase strength by 30 to 50 percent!
  • Weight training can increase spinal bone mineral density by 13 percent in six months, offering powerful protection against osteoporosis.
  • Weight training reduces the risk of diabetes, by increasing glucose utilization in the body by at least 23 percent in four months.
  • Weight training helps fight heart disease, by improving your cholesterol profile and blood pressure (a combination of weight training and cardiovascular exercise is ideal).
  • Weight training helps conquer back pain and fight arthritis.  A recent 12-year study showed that strengthening the low-back muscles had an 80 percent success rate in eliminating or reducing low-back pain.  Other studies have indicated that for women, weight training can ease arthritis pain and strengthen joints.
  • Weight training helps you become a better athlete, by improving your proficiency and reducing the risk of injury.
  • Weight training improves mental health.  A Harvard study found that just 10 weeks of strength training reduced clinical depression symptoms more successfully than standard counseling.

Exercise Specialist Recommendations The most important recommendation, above all others, is to work closely with an experienced professional who can carefully design a program that is safe and will address any health concerns you have.  The right exercises for one person can create or exacerbate injuries for another.  Another point to consider is that a program must be changed as strength increases, otherwise further improvements will not be realized.