Muscle-strengthening exercise, also known as strength-training or resistance exercise, is more than just about making muscles stronger. Here are six other reasons to start or to keep going.
One. Strength training makes you mentally sharper.
Researchers from the United States and Canada randomly assigned 155 older women either to a one-year program of twice weekly muscle-strengthening exercises or to a twice-weekly program of balance and toning exercises that didn’t build up their muscles.
At the end of the year, the muscle-strengthening women had better executive function (problem-solving skills) and better memory than the balance-and-toning women.
Two. Muscle-strengthening exercise improves your physical attractiveness.
“I tend not to dwell on vanity,” says Miriam Nelson, “but it’s wonderful when I hear that a woman all of a sudden starts wearing sleeveless shirts because she’s so proud of the way her arms look.”
Nelson is director of the John Hancock Research Center on Physical Activity, Nutrition, and Obesity Prevention at Tufts University in Boston.
“Some women start wearing shorts again because their legs have firmed up. Others find that weight control has become easier because their metabolism is a little better. With any exercise program, many women drop a couple of dress sizes, but with aerobics, you don’t get any stronger muscles. Walking is great, but with strength training people get this firmness that they haven’t had for years. And they love it.”
Three. Strength training helps people regain their confidence.
“That’s right,” says Nelson. “One of the greatest benefits is the sense of self-esteem or empowerment. It happens with both 50-year-olds and 95-year-olds. And they become more active because they’re stronger and feel more energetic.”
Four. Strength training can help fight depression.
“Many people don’t realize that depression is common in older people,” Nelson explains. “It disproportionately affects older people and disproportionately affects older women.
My colleague Maria Fiatarone did a study on 32 older individuals who were moderately depressed. After 10 weeks, those who were assigned to a supervised strength-training program three times a week had quite a remarkable reduction in depression and improvements in sleep and self-confidence.
Since then, we’ve seen the same reductions in depression in our study in people with arthritis. Other studies have found reductions in depression with aerobic exercise, but Maria’s was the first to see it with strength training.”
Five. Strength training helps you sleep better.
“Sometimes older people’s internal clock is so out of whack that they’re up from three to six in the morning,” Nelson says, “and then they’re wiped out so they sleep from four to seven in the afternoon. Everything is off kilter. But with strength training, they sleep deeper, they sleep longer, and they have fewer awakenings.”
Six. Strength training can help curb back pain.
“We haven’t done studies on back pain, but others have, explains Nelson. “Many people who sit at a desk all day, like I do, have weak abdominal and lower back muscles, which is a risk factor for lower-back pain. Strengthening those muscles can reduce the pain.”
For simple muscle-strengthening exercises you can do at home, download our free Exercise for Health: 15 Easy Exercises to Do at Home.
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