FITNESS

9 reasons to lift weights

We reveal the surprising health and body benefits of resistance exercise.

Resistance training

Want to tone up, boost metabolism and keep your body strong and mobile? The answer is simple: make weight training part of your weekly exercise plan. "Using weights will probably be easier – and a lot more enjoyable – than you think,” says exercise scientist Martha Lourey-Bird. “The idea of squats, lunges, push-ups or tricep dips may seem more foreign than going for a walk around the block, but once people realise they can pop down on the lounge-room floor for a little resistance training, it suddenly becomes much more achievable.” Need more motivation? Here are some surprising body and health benefits.

1. Burn kilojoules for longer

People who have greater muscle mass burn more kilojoules throughout the day − even when they’re not exercising. “That’s because muscle is very active tissue, and certainly much more active than fat,” says Lourey-Bird. “So building and sustaining muscle mass boosts and maintains metabolic rate, which is important for weight loss.”

2. Improved bone strength

Weight training increases bone strength, which is important for reducing the risk of osteoporosis. “To sustain bone density, we need to do weight-bearing exercises, like strength training, regularly,” says Lourey-Bird. According to Osteoporosis Australia, from the age of 45, women may experience bone loss of around one to two per cent, per year, which can speed up to two to four per cent per year, after menopause.[i] The good news? Bones respond to the strain of lifting weights by increasing their mass to become stronger.

3. Less stress and improved mood

Exercise releases endorphins, the body’s ‘feel good’ chemicals. Lourey-Bird believes weight training can help women feel stronger and more in control. “It has a positive effect on mood and self-esteem. You won’t just get stronger, you can feel more positive about life in general.”

4. Lower risk of diabetes

Muscles are the body’s largest consumer of glucose, explains Associate Professor David Dunstan, Head of Physical Activity at Melbourne’s Baker IDI Health and Diabetes Institute. “So a decline in muscle mass reduces the body’s capability to clear glucose efficiently,” he adds. This increases the risk of developing glucose intolerance and type 2 diabetes. In fact, American researchers have made a clear link between weight training regularly and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.[ii]

5. A healthier heart

While aerobic activity is beneficial for heart health, Associate Professor Dunstan says a blend of aerobic and resistance exercise is best. Being overweight is a risk factor for heart disease, and working out with weights maintains muscle mass and metabolic rate to help keep body weight under control. Training with moderate weights also reduces blood pressure – another major risk factor for heart disease – according to research from the University of New Mexico.

6. Less chance of injuries

“Working different parts of the body as part of an exercise regimen gives you the best chance of avoiding injury,” says sports physiotherapist and former chairperson of Sports Physiotherapy Australia, Ivan Hooper. “Instead of running or walking every day, do some weight training in between so certain areas of your body are not overloaded excessively.” Mixing up your exercise routine also helps to prevent boredom.

7. Reduced back pain

Slouching weakens muscles because they’re not being used properly. “Ligaments and discs in your back get loaded in an abnormal way and that leads to deterioration of those tissues,” says Hooper. People with sedentary jobs have a higher rate of back injury than labourers, who regularly use their back muscles. “Weight training helps strengthen the abdominal, lower back and gluteal muscles that support the spine,” he explains.

8. Increased brain health

Exercise, including weight training, keeps blood flowing to the brain and encourages the growth of new brain cells, according to the US Alzheimer’s Association. Associate Professor Dunstan adds that weight training helps maintain mobility so we can continue with the daily tasks that keep our brain ticking. “If you can’t physically do the things you’ve always done, it can be a real downer,” he says. “Staying strong and healthy improves overall wellbeing.”

9. Better sleep cycles

Researchers from the Seattle-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that exercise improved sleep quality for women who exercised in the mornings for at least 225 minutes a week. The researchers concluded that morning exercise sets our body clock correctly, so we doze off more easily at night.