Fitness training programs must include cardio work, but resistance training is equally important.

Why Fitness Programs Should Emphasize Resistance Training

Many women in particular, overlook resistance training as a component of their fitness program because either they are worried they will “bulk up” or they think the key to weight loss is ever increasing amounts of cardio. Both are myths.

Resistance training builds muscle, thereby counteracting the disappearance of muscle that is part of normal aging. Also, the more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns at rest.

Health Benefits of Fitness Training Programs

Fitness training programs that incorporate resistance training have many other health benefits.

1. Lower abdominal fat. In a 2014 study published in the research journal Obesity, Harvard researchers followed 10,500 men over the course of 12 years and found that strength training is more effective at preventing increases in abdominal fat than cardiovascular exercise.

2. Better cardiovascular health. Studies suggest that strength training also directly impacts the heart. For example, 2013 research in the Journal of Applied Physiology demonstrates that young men who regularly strength train have better-functioning HDL, or good cholesterol, compared with those who never pump iron.

Rebold explains that strength training improves blood pressure and triglyceride levels similarly to cardiovascular exercise, but it has even greater benefits on HDL. And 2015 research published in The Lancet medical journal shows that grip strength (a marker for total-body muscle health) more accurately predicts death from heart disease than blood pressure does.

3. Controlled blood sugar levels. Michael Rebold, Director of Integrative Exercise Sciences at Hiram College, advises that “Resistance training is something we want anyone with Type 2 diabetes to incorporate into their routine, A 2013 review published in the journal BioMed Research International shows that, in addition to building muscle, strength training also improves the muscle’s ability to take in and use glucose, or blood sugar.

4. Reduced cancer risk. Visceral fat not only increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes, but it can also promote cancer development. Research from the journal Oncogene published in 2017 show that visceral fat cells produce high levels of a cancer-triggering protein called fibroblast growth factor-2, or FGF2.

And according to 2017 research published in Therapeutic Advances in Medical Oncology, muscle mass is a strong predictor of cancer treatment outcomes.

5. Lowered injury risks. Having a good muscle base is important for all movement, balance, coordination and injury prevention. Plus, strength training also increases the number and diameter of collagen fibrils in tendons to increase their strength and help prevent injury.

6. Strengthened mental health. Strength training also improves symptoms of clinical depression and anxiety. Exercise-triggered endorphins play a role, but strength training also provides an opportunity to overcome obstacles in a controlled, predictable environment, increasing mental resiliency, according to findings from Harvard Medical School.

7. Improved flexibility and mobility. It’s time to rethink your stretching routine. Results from a 2017 study in the journal Isokinetics and Exercise Science show that strength training improves flexibility in both men and women. By taking your joints through their full range of motion during strength exercises, you can increase that range of motion over time, he explains.

8. Elevated body image. Sure, exercise impacts body composition and physique, but research, including a 2015 Journal of Extension study of middle-aged and older women, shows that consistent strength training improves body image and perceived physical appearance – no matter the actual aesthetic results.

9. Osteoporosis prevention and management. Strong bodies have strong bones, with strength training significantly increasing bone mineral density, Rivadeneyra says. He explains that any weight-bearing exercise in which you’re standing and gravity is pulling down on your body lightly stresses and strengthens the bones and muscles. Plus, every time a muscle contracts, it pulls on the bones it’s attached to, which stimulates the cells within the bone to produce structural proteins and move minerals into the bone, he says.

10. Boosted brain health. Strength training can improve brain power across a lifetime, but the effects are perhaps the strongest in older adults suffering from cognitive decline. In one 2016 study in the Journal of American Geriatrics, when men and women ages 55 through 86 with mild impairment performed twice-weekly weight training for six months, they significantly improved their scores on cognitive tests. However, when participants spent their workouts stretching, their cognitive test scores declined.

11. A longer lifespan. One of strength training’s many benefits include a longer life. The 2015 study in The Lancet found that grip strength accurately predicts death from any cause and, according to a 2017 Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care study, compared to body mass index or BMI, lean muscle mass better measures a person’s overall health.

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