Weightlifting isn’t just for muscleheads! There’s nothing wrong with cardio, if cardio works for you. But there are plenty of reasons to lift heavy things as well as doing cardio, even if you’re not particularly interested in working on your Terminator impression. Heavy lifting has all kinds of benefits for bone strength, metabolic health, and brain function - here’s a look at five you might not know.
1. It builds bone strength.
Did you know that astronauts lose an incredible amount of bone mass during long-term spaceflight? Without gravity, their bones don’t have to work as hard, and bone mass is like muscle mass: use it or lose it. Weight training is like the opposite of being in space: put your bones under a greater pressure than usual, and they’ll adapt by getting stronger.
This study found that weight training was safe and effective even for postmenopausal women with very low bone mass - it improved bone mineral density and functional ability without any injuries.
2. It improves performance in endurance sports.
So your primary sport is running or biking or swimming? That’s not actually a reason to stay out of the weightlifting. Weightlifting helps athletes in endurance sports as well. For example, this review of 26 different studies found that strength training made endurance athletes faster and more efficient.
3. It improves mental health.
This study found that in adults with Type 2 Diabetes, adding resistance training to their diabetes treatment improved mental health in the treatment group significantly compared to a control group. And this study found that resistance training significantly improved mental abilities in elderly adults with age-related cognitive impairment. This study also explored some of the ways that resistance exercise could improve anxiety, and this review found it effective for treating depression.
There are all kinds of reasons why that benefit might happen. For example, we know that weight training improves insulin sensitivity, and we know that insulin sensitivity has effects on the brain as well - that’s one connection and there are probably others.
4. It may help with chronic pain.
This review covered several studies that found a benefit of resistance training for people with fibromyalgia. It does seem completely counterintuitive, but actually, several studies have shown benefits for pain, muscle strength, tenderness, and overall functionality - at least in women (there aren’t a lot of studies in men yet).
A Cochrane review agreed. And it would make sense that exercise could help with chronic pain, because exercise helps reduce whole-body inflammation in the long run.
5. It Improves Liver Health
Fatty liver disease affects between 20 and 30% of Americans - and the liver can have too much fat around it even if the person isn’t overweight by BMI, so looking thin is no guarantee of health. You can read more about fatty liver disease here, but the short story is that it’s serious and alarmingly common. But guess what helps reduce fat deposits around the liver? Strength training!
This study found that resistance training reduced liver fat independently of weight loss (and also reduced oxidative stress and insulin resistance). Admittedly, this was a pretty small study, with 19 subjects in total, but since then, other studies have confirmed the results: resistance training has a beneficial effect on liver health, even if it doesn’t cause weight loss.