18 reasons why you should lift weights

Weight lifting is an often overlooked sport, considering it is one of the oldest, originating back to the first Olympic Games in Athens back in 1896. The sport often conjures up an image of building up bulk muscle, which has put people off pursuing it.

However this is not the reality and in this article we explore the many benefits of weightlifting, which may leave you heading for the weights on your next visit to the gym!

The Health benefits of Lifting Weights

1. Muscle Fights Fat

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You could potentially lose up to 40% more fat if you lift weights, rather than doing cardiovascular exercise alone. Penn State researchers found in a recent study that weightlifters lose six pounds more during their workout, than those participating in aerobic exercise.

This is due to the fact that weightlifters burn mostly fat, whilst those undertaking aerobic exercise burn fat and muscle. As you progress with weightlifting and build muscle, your body will begin to burn more calories when you are at rest to fuel your increased muscle mass – therefore the benefits continue even when you have finished weightlifting! This means you lose weight even at rest.

2. Reduces symptoms of depression

Lifting weights will also lift your mood! Exercise in general is known to be of excellent benefit in the fight against depression, and weightlifting is included.  A study published in the Journal of Psychiatry (2004) found that anaerobic exercise such as weightlifting has similar benefits in relieving depression as aerobic exercises, for example running or tennis.

O’Connor, P.J., Herring, M.P. and Carvalho, (2010) in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine found that resistance training such as weightlifting is also of noted benefit to those suffering from anxiety. Their research found that following a moderate intensity resistance programme was more effective at easing anxiety then a high intensity programme. Therefore if you are looking to lift your mood then lift some weight!

3. Beat the fatigue

Feeling fatigued? Weightlifting will help ease your tiredness. O’Connor, Herring, and Carvalho (2010) found that in 94% of 70 randomised trials, exercise proved clinically beneficially to fighting fatigue, with strength training such as weightlifting yielding the largest improvements in those suffering from chronic fatigue.

4. Fights Osteoporosis

Just as weightlifting strengthens your muscles, it also strengthens your bones, which could potentially ward off the bone thinning disease Osteoporosis.

In fact, anaerobic exercise such as weightlifting may be more effective in building bone density than aerobic exercise. Mayer (1999) in the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise states

“both aerobic and resistance training exercise can provide weight-bearing stimulus to bone, yet research indicates that resistance training may have a more profound site specific effect than aerobic exercise”

Indeed the NOF (National Osteoporosis Foundation) lists weight bearing exercise alongside muscle strengthening exercise as the most important exercises for strengthening your bones.

5. Be better at your sport

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Not only will you be developing new skills and benefits in the sport of weightlifting, you will also be improving your performance in other sports you practice.

Weightlifting will strengthen and tone your muscles as well as help improve your dexterity and your endurance, in addition to improving your co-ordination.

These are skills that can be transferred to many sports. For example if you are a long distance runner you will be able to run for even longer due to stronger muscles that can push to an even higher intensity.

6. Move with ease

The benefits of weightlifting are noticeable as soon as you get out of bed in the morning – through weightlifting your muscles are strengthened and toned, and become more flexible. This means you will be moving around with great ease and flexibility all day!

7. Lowers the risk of diabetes

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The diabetes charity ‘Diabetes UK‘  states that in 2012, 385 million people worldwide were affected by diabetes, and this is expected to rise to 592 million people by 2035. Diabetes UK also estimates that there are approximately 175 million people worldwide with undiagnosed diabetes.

It is well documented that eating a balanced diet, exercising and watching your alcohol intake are all ways to avoid developing diabetes. However one perhaps surprising way to avoid becoming another number to this statistic is by taking up weightlifting.

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that men who undertook weightlifting for 150 minutes each week had a 34% lower risk of diabetes than those who didn’t weightlift.

Research published on the Nature Medicine website in 2013 explained why resistance training helps regulate blood sugar. The research found that weightlifting encourages the growth of white muscle. White muscle uses glucose for energy, therefore lowering the level of glucose in the blood.

This is echoed by the American Diabetes Association, who recommend that those diagnosed with type 2 diabetes start a strength training programme to help regulate their blood sugar.

8. A Healthier Heart

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Research undertaken at the department of Health, Leisure and Exercise Science at Appalachian State University in the USA found that resistance training such as weightlifting has a similar effect on lowering blood pressure as aerobic exercise.

The study looked into the changes that occurred to arteries and blood flow after forty-five minutes of resistance training. The finding demonstrated that resistance training results in an increase in blood flow, therefore reducing blood pressure in some cases by up to 20%.

The increase in blood flow was noted to last for thirty minutes post training, with some individuals experiencing an increase in blood flow for up to twenty-four hours post exercising. These results proved better than taking anti-hypertensive medication.

More recent research undertaken by Moraes et al (2011) published in the Hypertension Journal further proves the effect of resistance training on lowering blood pressure. The researchers studied a group of hypertensive men (men with high blood pressure).

The group were given a 12 week programme of resistance training to follow. The results demonstrated a significant improvement in the blood pressure of the participants. The systolic and diastolic pressure dropped by 16 and 12 mmHg respectively. This decrease was enough to drop each participant from being classed as ‘hypertensive’ down to ‘pre-hypertensive.’

In days gone by, people with hypertension had been warned by medics to avoid lifting weights as it was thought to further increase blood pressure –  as we can see with the research above, this is no longer the case!

9. Prevents back pain

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Weightlifting will help to strengthen and build your core muscles (the muscles that support your spine). This in turn should ease the pain from sitting at your office desk all day and improve your posture. Adding weights whilst performing squat exercises and hip extensions are a great way to strengthen the back.

10. Improved balance

Through weightlifting you will be working all your major muscles such as your hamstrings and pectorals. However, you will also be working your stabiliser muscles. These are the much smaller muscles that do exactly as their name suggests – they stabilise you whilst you are working a major muscle.

For example, the hip joint muscles act as stabilisers to the pelvis when undertaking abdominal exercise. As a result of strengthening your stabiliser muscles you will be ensuring that all the muscles that keep you walking strong and upright are in peak condition.

This will help you in everyday tasks such as balancing on one foot to reach the top shelf in the supermarket or ensuring you keep your balance on a slippery surface. As we get older, this becomes of increasing importance in protection against injuries.

According to the WHO (World Health Organisation) the second biggest leading cause of death is caused by a fall, with adults over the age of 65 experiencing the highest number of falls. Strengthen your stabiliser muscles through weightlifting and lessen your chance of taking a tumble. Another reason to keep going with weightlifting throughout life!

11. It doesn’t make you bulky

Many people, especially women, fear taking up weightlifting will lead to developing large, bulky muscles. However, this is not the case. According to strength and conditioning coach Mike LoBue, building mass bulk muscles takes a great deal of work, involving following a protein heavy weight gain diet, taking supplements and lifting heavy weights many times each week. He assures that weightlifting in conjunction with a healthy diet  will result in a toned, lean body, not a bulky one.

12. Improves mental strength

Not only will weightlifting release endorphins into your bloodstream, making you feel great, it will also teach you mental strength. Lifting weights requires the ability to challenge yourself, push yourself to the limit and to persevere as you progress. These are all qualities that will help you in other areas of your life – for example when sitting an exam or going for a demanding interview.

13. You’ll look better!

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All the hard work will pay off. Weightlifting is the ideal way to achieve a sleek, toned body. Cardio training alone may help you burn fat, but without some form of resistance training you won’t tone and build muscles that ultimately shape your body.

14. Sleep better

A study published in the European Applied Journal of Physiology in 2012 looked into the effects of resistance training on sleep. The researchers found that  resistance training reduced the number of times participants woke in the night, compared to a control group who didn’t exercise.

Indeed, research by O’Connor, Herring, and Carvalho (2010) found that those suffering from sleep disorders showed a 30% improvement in sleep through following a regular resistance training programme, with the benefits shown to be most effective after 8-10 weeks of consistent resistance training.

15. You’ll live longer

A study undertaken at the University of California (2014) looked into the longevity benefits of weightlifting. Through following a group of women aged 65 years and over and men aged 55 years and over, the study looked into the body composition of each participant – eg the percentage of fat and muscle in the body.

The participants were monitored through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1988 and 1994. Each participant was then followed up in 2004 to see how many had died of natural causes, and the data was put in correlation with their body composition.

The researchers found that the more muscle mass you have as you get older, the less likely you are to have a premature death.The research also found that muscle mass is important in reducing the metabolic risks of diabetes and obesity, as we have already discovered above.

16. You’ll burn more calories

Researchers at the University of Alabama found that women who performed weight lifting exercises burned more calories throughout the day than those who didn’t undertake weight training. This is further backed up by a  study conducted in 2008 by the researchers at Boston University School of Medicine.

Using mice as a genetic model, the study found that type II muscle fibres (the type you build through weightlifting) improves metabolism throughout the whole body. The researchers concluded that type II muscle fibre reduces fat within the body without any changes being made to diet, which subsequently improves your BMI.

17. Your diet will improve

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Research conducted by the University of Pittsburgh found that people who did not indulge in at least three hours a week of exercise ate more than their recommended calorie intake each day. Sticking to your weightlifting programme will therefore help you keep a good diet, reminding you to stay on track.

In addition, as weightlifting is working all your muscles you will begin to eat more protein based foods that feed the muscle, such as chicken and turkey. Protein based foods will also aid in post-workout recovery and in fuelling the body with energy.

18. It will improve your IQ!

It’s not just your muscles that will see the benefit of weightlifting – but also your brain. Researchers in Brazil found that just six months of resistance training improved cognitive function. Short and long term memory, attention span and verbal reasoning were also noted to have improved.

O’Connor, Herring, and Carvalho (2010) add further fuel to this, finding that seven randomised controlled studies have shown an improvement in cognitive function through resistance training, with one of the most marked effects being an improvement in memory and memory related tasks.

Conclusion

So there you have it, 18 reasons for you to lift weights! If you are just starting out, speak to a fitness instructor first – he or she will be able to best advise you on how much weight you should be lifting and what exercises you should be doing. Happy lifting!

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