Have you been going to the gym and hitting the cardio machines? Walking, running or cycling outdoors? That’s great news! In fact, awesome. You are doing more than most Americans, keep it up!
Now, have you been resistance training? If so, great! If not, why not? Lack of time? Don’t have access to “equipment”? Don’t know how? Don’t know why?
In this post, we’ll explore the whys and hows of resistance (aka weight or strength) training.
Why should you include resistance training as a part of your exercise program?
The American College of Sports Medicine has indicated in its position stand on progression models in resistance training for healthy adults that progressive resistance training is critical to ongoing improvements in fitness and ultimately reaching fitness goals (1).
5 great reasons to get started with resistance training
1. Almost all persons benefit from resistance training (4), but older adults may benefit the most (5-7).
Older adults experience sarcopenia which is an age-related loss of muscle mass. Sarcopenia is thought to affect 30% of individuals over 60 years of age and more than 50% of people over 80 years.
Sarcopenia is not the lone cause of muscle loss, other populations who experience loss of muscle mass are people who are sedentary, have neuro-muscular problems, long-term corticosteroid therapy, chronic orthopedic problems, and/or malnutrition (8), many of whom are older adults. Resistance training has been shown to increase muscle mass which can reverse many of the deleterious effects of poor muscle mass and tone (9,10).
Another way resistance training is important for the older adult is in the secondary prevention and treatment of osteoporosis.
In the United States alone, 10 million people have osteoporosis (29). Over the past 2 decades, a few dozen research studies have provided compelling data that the loading of resistance training can positively influence bone mineral density (11). It has been demonstrated that older males gain a significant increase in total testosterone in response to resistance training along with significant decreases in resting cortisol (12).
Other important benefits of resistance training are improved strength, power, better function in activities of daily living, improved quality of life, increases resting energy expenditure, and improves body composition (13,14,15,16).Resistance training is a part of a well-designed fitness program and is restorative for many with disabilities. Click To Tweet
2. Resistance training helps improve control of blood sugar (hemoglobin A1c), blood lipids, and blood pressure vs. aerobic exercise by itself.
It is estimated the 9.3% of the population have diabetes (30), 1 of 3 U.S. adults or about 70 million people have high blood pressure (31) and 73.5 million adults (31.7%) in the United States have high low-density lipoproteins (32). Aerobic exercise alone will produce positive effects on the above values, resistance training will also do the same but to a lesser degree. However, the combination of aerobic and resistance training is superior to doing either alone (2,3).
3. Resistance training can reduce abdominal and overall body fat (17,18,19).
As we age we see a decrease in lean body mass and an increase in fatty tissue. Part of this is due to hormonal changes, but a good percent is due to an ever increasingly sedentary lifestyle. Increased body fat is associated with disability, vascular disease, certain cancers, cognitive problems, hypertension, dyslipidemia. Abdominal fat is correlated with various chronic and fatal diseases at higher rates than generalized body fat (20,21,22). Participating in a regular program of resistance training with or without aerobic exercise will help improve body composition by reducing body fatness and increasing muscle mass.
4. Resistance training may help your brain.
Resistance training has been shown to enhance executive cognitive functions (23). Additionally, resistance training has been demonstrated to increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which is critical to neuroplasticity (24). Neuroplasticity, also known as brain plasticity, is an umbrella term that describes a lasting change to the brain throughout an animal’s life course. BDNF levels are correlated with neural health. Even though the data on brain health and exercise is more compelling for aerobic activities some initial data on resistance training is promising.
5. Resistance training may help you stay on your feet and remain active.
Resistance training programs that are designed with “functional” goals in mind can help prevent falls in older adults (25). This can also help persons struggling with Parkinson’s Disease and other medical conditions that impact balance (26,27,28).
The next time you step on a treadmill, think for a moment, will I get the most from my time at the gym today? If you have not added weight training at least 2 days per week, probably not.
Part 2: How to get started in a basic resistance training program.