Resistance training (also called weight-training or strength-training) is commonly thought of as something young guys do in in the gym. But it’s not about lifting heavy weights and building muscles purely for aesthetic reasons.
Detailed medical studies from around the globe show resistance training exercise has a vast range of physical and mental benefits that could reduce your risk of disease, fragility and keep you young.
The amazing thing is, its never too late to start strength training. It can be done at home, or out in nature, with little or no equipment and at a pace that suits you.
What is Resistance Training?
Resistance training is simply exercising you muscles using an opposing, resistive force. This force could be your own body weight, or you can use equipment such as resistance bands, kettle bells, dumbbells, or a mixture in a home work out. The idea is to slowly progress your strength by either adding more weight, increasing repetitions or the length of time preforming each repetition.
The most obvious benefits of resistance training are gaining strength, fitness, while losing a few pounds and toning up. But, studies show this is only the tip of the iceberg as far as health benefits go.
Health professionals advise adding one to three sessions of resistance training into your week, covering all muscle groups. The important thing is to start off easily, and steadily increase the intensity (either in terms of weight, repetitions or amount of sets) to allow your muscles to adapt and for you to progress at your own speeds and abilities. The “use it or lose it” saying has never been more true as when it comes to strength and fitness.
Resistance Training for Health
Resistance training has so many benefits to your physical and mental well-being, here’s a few of the most important:
Keeps your Muscles and Bones Strong
Everyone naturally loses muscle as they age, and this begins from about 30 years old onwards. This human condition is called Sarcopenia, and the best treatment is always exercise.
In the UK, 1 in 10 elderly people are suffering to some degree with frailty, a scary statistic that doesn’t need to be. For women, there is an added risk involved in ageing because of the hormone Oestrogen (produced by the ovaries) lessening muscle mass and bone density, especially for those who have gone through the menopause. In fact, studies show 10% loss in bone mass within five years of starting menopause. Bone density loss can lead to conditions like osteoporosis and bone fractures.
Luckily, resistance training can help improve both muscle strength and bone density for men and women. This reduces frailty or disease as you age, keeping you more stable, flexible, giving you better joint health and helping your balance. Adding a a resistance training routine to your usual activities will keep you on your feet well into older age!
Keeps your Heart Healthy
Many people know that cardio exercises like running keep your heart healthy, but studies show that resistance training is just as effective and has some advantages. For example, it is less harsh on the joints of the legs.
Just 2-3 sessions of resistance training a week has been shown to lower both the systolic and diastolic blood pressure (the upper and lower measurements in a resting blood pressure result) seen in people with hypertension (high blood pressure). It also help in increasing the good HDL cholesterol and lowering the bad LDL cholesterol, reducing the risk of conditions like atherosclerosis, strokes, heart attacks and other cardiovascular diseases.
Helps Stabilise Blood Sugar Levels
Resistance training can help reduce the risk of developing adult-onset (Type 2) diabetes and better manage the disease for those with it, showing improved insulin sensitivity and glycemic control after several weeks of beginning resistance and strength training.
Reduce Fat and increase your Metabolism
Resistance training’s biggest aid for weight loss and toning the body compared to cardio training is how it increases your metabolism. After you finish a training session, your body will work for 24-48 hours to repair the muscle tissue from that session burning calories as you rest.
Having more lean muscle on your body means they need more calories to maintain (muscles are highly metabolic) so burning more calories throughout your day even when sitting reading on the beach or while you sleep. Generally speaking for each pound of muscle gained you can burn an additional 30-50 calories a day. Strength training for weight loss works!
Improved Mental Health
Resistance training has a major impact on your mood, body image, confidence, energy levels, sleep and general sense of wellbeing. It also helps brain cognition and memory. But more than that, it can lessen the effects of major conditions like anxiety, depression and chronic fatigue conditions.
Resistance training reduces cortisol, a stress hormone linked to many mental health conditions and one Harvard study found that ten weeks of strength training reduced depressive symptoms more successfully that regular counselling sessions.
Ready to add Resistance Training to your Exercise Regime?
Resistance training, alongside running, swimming or your regular hikes, can massively improve your fitness, strength and stamina. But, it also helps to protect you from some of life’s more serious conditions.
The progressive overloading of your muscles (at a steady pace you are comfortable with) can keep you from falling off the steeper slope of frailty as you age, make your day to day chores and hobbies less tough, and increase your happiness levels with a regular dose of those feel good endorphins.
Another benefit of resistance training is that it doesn’t need a lot of bulky or expensive equipment, or mean you are tied into an expensive gym membership. Your body weight and some resistance bands are all you need to make some serious progress.
This type of exercise means you can pack small, light equipment into your bag. Take them on a camping trip or use mid way on a woodland walk, to get some well needed strength into you life while out in nature. Or, simply use them in the comfort of your home while watching the latest Netflix binge!
If you aren’t used to physical exercise it would be advisable to have a chat with your GP or health advisor before starting any exercise regime. Another important factor when resistance training is to get more protein in your diet to help the muscles to repair and grow. This can be through a good diet or supplemented with whey protein powders (or plant based alternatives) availably at most supermarkets and online suppliers if needed.
Will Resistance Training make me Bulky?
Don’t worry, strength training exercise won’t make you a muscle-bound bodybuilder, unless you take it to the extremes. Research shows that unlike men, women don’t gain size as they train, but it will help to gain definition and muscle tone as well as reducing fat and increasing metabolism.
There are many books, websites and YouTube video resources out there showing a vast number of exercises from beginners onwards to keep you progressing and stimulated, and you can tailor it to what suits your needs.
So, why not make a pledge to get those muscles back working as they were in their prime and enjoy something a little more than the usual treadmill grind?
Below are two types of resistance bands: large loop types of various strengths, as well as the handled types that you clip on in combinations to suit strength needs. Both have their benefits with particular exercises. I’d personally recommend both to cover any eventuality, but either on its own is a great way to start.
This neat set of resistance bands will help you burn fat and increase muscle.
Set includes a range of strengths, all made from natural anti-snap latex.
Lightweight and portable, this is a great starter set for people of all ages and levels of fitness.
This is a set of four, looped resistance bands.
Made from natural latex, they can withstand extreme tensile force.
Multiple resistance levels, so you can workout to the best of your abilities.
Portable and lightweight, you can take these with your wherever you go.