23 Jul 2015 | 0 Comments
Having gone through the aerobics craze of the 80s and 90s, people are once again turning to resistance training as the best way to ensure long term health and longevity. This comes at a time where the Australian government has finally officially recognized the health benefits of weight, including a recommendation that Australians perform resistance training multiple days per week as part of a well-rounded physical activity regime (alongside some aerobic activity and mobility-specific training).
There are many areas in which resistance training benefits your health, including just about every parameter of wellbeing you could imagine. Read on for a brief overview of what the scientific literature tells us about training with weights.
How more muscle mass can help you achieve health
Let’s start with describing a typical overweight profile: more body fat usually = more systemic inflammation and poorer glucose management = greater risk of diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, mental disorders and autoimmune conditions.
Now, let’s look at a quick summary of the current literature with regards to muscle mass. More muscle = greater metabolic rate (ie greater energy expended at rest), faster healing times from surgery, greater cancer survival rates, better sleep, lower incidence of degenerative diseases such as arthritis, osteoporosis and memory loss.
Why training with weights equals better health outcomes
- Firstly, it’s important to recognize the most obvious effect of resistance training: increased muscle mass and strength. This is fundamental to your health. Greater muscle mass improves metabolic rate, enhances coordination, protects bones and joints, and provides a hormonal advantage to glucose metabolism.
- Resistance training is also associated with greater bone mineral density, meaning you’re less likely to fracture bones or otherwise injure yourself when doing physical activity. It also means that those of you who might be concerned about osteoporosis, which affects both men and women, should strongly consider weight training.
- Lifting weights has favourable metabolic adaptations for body composition; in other words, it helps you to stay lean and mean. We all know that higher fat mass contributes to metabolic diseases and can increase your risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease, diabetes and depression.
Building and maintaining muscle is a hugely energy-consumptive process: the protein you ingest is broken down into amino acids that are used as the bricks to build and maintain muscle mass, and the energy derived from fats and carbohydrates is selectively put to work in fueling this process. We go into this more in depth in another article on resistance training and fat loss!
- Training your muscles helps ward off risk factors in metabolic syndrome, as well as many other diseases. It’s been shown in the literature that resistance training can be used specifically in the prevention or treatment of conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, back pain, depression and obesity.There are multiple biochemical mechanisms that account for this. For example, resistance training can help prevent the onset of diabetes due to its insulin-sensitizing effects. Type 2 diabetes is caused by extreme insulin resistance – meaning that your muscle cells are resistant to insulin, which is supposed to chaperone blood glucose into your cells to be burned as energy.
Research has shown that resistance training specifically upregulates a particular type of glucose transporter called GLUT4 in the muscles – allowing blood glucose to be soaked up and used by muscle cells independent of insulin signaling. Insulin resistance is a major risk factor in cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, inflammation and obesity.
- Strength training also shows improvements in blood pressure and cholesterol numbers.
- Resistance training improves sleep quality, a fundamental element of health that is directly related to memory, reflexes, cognitive performance and a multitude of factors related to your perception of hunger, pain and emotions. If you’re looking to improve job performance, or even just maintain your memory and keep your mind sharp, you need to strongly consider getting in the weights room!
Sleep deprivation is a huge problem that can wreak havoc on your health. It can affect nutrient partitioning during weight loss (meaning incoming energy is more likely to be converted into fat than lean tissue), increase hunger, impair problem solving, disrupt insulin sensitivity, disrupt testosterone levels, increase stress hormone output…. the list goes on.
Long story short, weight training has been shown to improve sleep quality, which has secondary effects on just about every other health parameter you can name.
Interestingly, although the process of breaking down muscle via training is an inflammatory process, the resulting effects on the brain are actuallyanti-inflammatory. This has vast implications for the prevention of age-related memory loss.
This article could go on for hundreds of pages, but to summarize the body of evidence, renowned exercise physiology researcher Dr Wayne Westcott says it best in his 2012 review of the literature: “Resistance training is medicine”.
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