Weight-Lifting: 7 Health Benefits You May Not Know About

Unless you’re an avid gym-goer, regular strength training might not land particularly high on your list of priorities. It’s easy to feel like weight-lifting is best left to the body builders and athletes, but every person should be setting aside time to improve strength. According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults should perform muscle-strengthening activities at least two times per week in addition to regular cardiovascular efforts. Remember, this is a minimum recommendation.

While improved appearance and a boost in calorie burn are good reasons to perform these types of exercises, you might be surprised at some of these seven other benefits you can score from lifting weights. For those already pumping iron on a regular basis, consider this a little encouragement to keep up the good work. If you’re falling short, it’s time to hit the weight room.

1. Healthier heart

Doctor holding a heart

Lifting weights may actually be a good method for keeping your heart healthy. | iStock.com

Traditional logic indicates people with hypertension should avoid lifting weights because it can temporarily increase blood pressure. While this is true, the increase is short-lived and only those with serious issues should be concerned. If you have high blood pressure, talk to your doctor before starting any type of new exercise program.

Now to the good news. In the long term, lifting weights may actually be a good method for keeping your heart healthy. A 2000 review of multiple studies examined the relationship between weight training and blood pressure. It concluded the strengthening exercises can slightly reduce blood pressure, enough to reduce the risk of stroke and coronary heart disease.

2. Better bones

X-ray hands

Resistance training is beneficial for bone health. | iStock.com

Strong bones play just as much of role in overall well-being as muscles do. Most folks’ go-to method for keeping their skeletal structure in good shape is to load up on plenty of foods with calcium and vitamin D. The former is a key player in building and repairing bones while the latter boosts the effects. Eating an adequate amount of these nutrients is definitely a good idea, but lifting weights might be even better. A large review published in 1999 reported resistance training was almost always found to be beneficial for bone health while also improving strength and balance.

3. Less risk of diabetes

Weight lifting can reduce your risk of diabetes

Weight-lifting can reduce your risk of diabetes. | iStock.com

Type II diabetes is one of the fastest growing problems in the country, largely due to poor nutrition choices. At the current rate, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported one out of every three Americans will develop the disease in his or her lifetime. Making better food choices can reduce your risk, but exercise also plays a huge role.

Most people think of cardio as the cure-all form of exercise, and it certainly does a good job at keeping folks in fighting form. When it comes to warding off diabetes, though, pumping iron could be a better bet. A 2012 study from the Archives of Internal Medicine reported men who lifted weights for at least 150 minutes per week reduced their risk of developing diabetes, regardless of whether or not they also engaged in aerobic activities. Those who saw the most benefits incorporated both forms of exercise, so it’s best to stick with at least a little bit of cardio.

4. Improved endurance

Man riding a bike to enhance his endurance

You’ll see an improvement in your endurance, too. | iStock.com

Endurance athletes, such as cyclists and runners, typically steer clear of weight training for fear they’ll bulk up and slow down. Skipping strength training is actually one of the biggest mistakes these athletes can make. For starters, weight training allows you to build muscles in ways that can help prevent injury. Additionally, these exercises can  improve your performance. In a 2010 edition of the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, a review examined five studies that tracked the impact resistance training had on performance among cyclists. Overall, the review concluded replacing some endurance training with resistance training can lead to an increase in power and a faster time trial.

5. Mood boost

Man in a good mood after the gym

Strength training can improve your mood. | iStock.com

The link between exercise and elevated mood has been touted for years, usually in reference to cardio efforts. Like running or swimming, resistance training also releases endorphins. What’s more, numerous studies have found no distinction between aerobic and non-aerobic exercise when it comes to reducing your risk of depression. Researchers reported both forms of exercise were effective ways to significantly reduce depression symptoms.

6. Brain power

brain x-ray, MRI

Weight-lifting can boost your brain power. | iStock.com

What we know for sure about dementia is spotty at best. No one’s sure of a cause, but there are a number of important correlations medical professionals have observed. One of the most notable has to do with white matter lesions, holes that form in the brain later in life. While the relationship between these gaps and dementia isn’t 100% clear, research indicates they increase your risk of developing the disease.

Though there’s no guarantee you can avoid dementia, weight-lifting could lower your chances. A recent study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society tracked white matter lesion development in a group of 155 women over 12 months. At the end of the trial, women who engaged in resistance training two times per week had significantly fewer lesions.

7. Build relationships

Man lifting weights with a friend

Try weight-lifting with a friend. | iStock.com

Unless you live within a few blocks of your closest pals, it’s unlikely you can regularly meet up with them at the gym. While it might be intimidating to go by yourself at first, you’ll soon find there are tons of guys just like you. Ask other regulars to spot you and you could soon find yourself with an expanding group of friends. Finding a good group of workout pals will also hold you accountable, reducing the likelihood of skipping workouts simply because you don’t feel like going.