Do you incorporate practices into your daily or weekly routine for the benefit those things bring to your health and wellbeing?
Take coffee, for instance. Many folks enjoy their daily cup of joe knowing it can improve cognitive functioning and decrease the risk of certain diseases, even lowering the risk of mortality from all causes.
Or, what about your sleep habits? Do you aim to get a specific number of hours of restful sleep each night for the purpose of improving cardiovascular health, even adding length to your life?
Those are only a few examples of both foods and practices that, when incorporated into our lives, can improve our health and may even allow us to live longer.
And, according to the experts, upon analyzing research spanning more than three decades, muscle strengthening can be added to the list of things we can easily incorporate into our lives to add length to our days!
Spoiler alert: adding just 30 minutes of muscle strengthening activity per week can help you reap this reward!
So, let’s take a look at the benefits of muscle training (strengthening) and then we’ll look at the science and discover some simple, practical ways you can boost your health and lower your overall risk of death.
Benefits Of Muscle Training
Muscle training, or strengthening, exercises offer a wide variety of benefits to your health, so before we dive into the research, let’s quickly explore just a few of those benefits…
1- Improves Bone Density
Studies show strength training to be capable of significantly increasing bone mineral density.
This is explained by a few things that occur as you increase the strength of your muscles:
- Weight-bearing exercises done while standing cause gravity to pull downward on the body, slightly stressing bones and muscles, thereby causing them to strengthen.
- Each time a muscle contracts throughout exercise, it pulls on the bone where it is attached. This pulling essentially mimics a trauma, causing the cells in the bone to stimulate the production of structural proteins which work to build up and strengthen the bone.
2- Improves Mental Health
Strength training has been shown to improve symptoms of both depression and anxiety.
Some believe, as in the case of high intensity aerobic exercise, that these improvements are linked to a release of endorphins or increased endocannabinoid levels.
And, according to research findings from the Harvard School of Medicine, “strength training provides an opportunity to overcome obstacles in a controlled predictable environment, increasing mental resilience.”
3- Raises Basal Metabolic Rate
When you do strength or resistance training, your body requires specific amounts of energy based on how hard you are working.
Then, your body continues to burn calories at that rate as it returns to a state of rest even after you’ve finished exercising, known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.
In the case of strength training, after you’ve put in a particularly intense amount of work, this amount is essentially amplified as you then continue to burn calories at this high metabolic rate through recovery.
Then, as you build lean muscle mass through your efforts, the physical activity that you engage in will require your muscles to burn even more calories as each kilogram of lean muscle mass increases your metabolic rate by upwards to 100 calories per day.
- great efforts put into strength training equal great caloric burn post workout session
- lean muscle mass built through strength training equals greater calorie burn in your workouts
4- Helps Maintain A Healthy Weight
Now this may seem obvious after the last point, but those gains in muscle and potential extra calorie burn kick in to aid you as you seek to maintain a healthy body weight.
Not only can you shed pounds with those calorie burn gains, but studies have shown resistance training (one type of muscle strengthening exercise) works to help dieters keep those pounds off, with a weekly commitment to muscle training activity preventing weight gain as well as keeping visceral belly fat at bay.
5- Controls Blood Sugar
Studies have shown that as you build muscle this also improves the uptake and use of glucose within the muscle.
Transporters within the cells of the muscle travel to the bloodstream to get glucose and then bring it back to the muscle. When you strengthen the muscle, this makes that process more efficient, bringing more glucose into the muscle thereby lowering blood sugar levels.
For this reason, people with type 2 diabetes are encouraged to incorporate muscle strengthening exercises into their weekly routine.
Research, Muscle Strengthening, And A Lowered Risk Of Death
As we just saw above, and as we’ve known for some time, the benefits of exercise are great, but did you know (aside from the title and intro of this article) that this benefit list includes the ability to reduce the risk of death from all causes?
However, those benefits can seem vague. After all, how much exercise brings these benefits?
What type of exercise benefits you the most? And, how much benefit are we talking about here?
Well, a group of scientists at Tohoku University in Japan have recently analyzed multiple international studies, spanning over three decades, to bring us those answers.
The studies reviewed included research conducted over the course of 2-25 years on adults who were healthy (lacking any major health concerns), with a centralized focus on 16 particular studies from the United States, England, Scotland, Australia, and Japan.
These studies involved a large number of participants, both men and women, from samples with as few as 4,000 to as many as nearly 480,000 people, including ages ranging from 18-97.
Participants in each study did a variety of physical activities, including aerobic and muscle strengthening exercises.
And, as the team analyzed the data, one thing stood out: you don’t have to exercise for hours and hours each week to improve your health and reduce your risk of death!
Incorporating just 30-60 minutes per week of muscle strengthening exercises proved to lower the risk of death from all causes, including heart disease and cancer, by 10-20%.
Even better, when strength training activities were combined each week with aerobic exercise, the risk of death decreased by 40%, the threat of cardiovascular disease dropped by 46%, and the risk of death by cancer reduced by 28%.
Another bonus? The types of muscle strengthening exercises that will allow you to reap these rewards aren’t only those typically done in a gym setting.
Muscle strengthening activities are beneficial due to their (positive) impact on your musculoskeletal health.
And, while those types of activities certainly include lifting weights, using resistance bands, doing push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, squats, and lunges, they also include practical work such as heavy gardening and shoveling.
Furthermore, according to the physical health guidelines in the UK, even yoga, pilates, and tai chi, as well as wheeling a wheelchair, lifting and carrying children, and carrying heavy shopping bags are considered to be worthy muscle strengthening exercises as they work to benefit the musculoskeletal system.
While there were limitations to the analysis done here, such as limited data, a lack of diversity in the population of participants, and data collected through observation as opposed to clinical trials, there is still much to be gleaned from the information reviewed.
But, this new analysis of data can serve to add to what we’ve already known concerning a reduced risk of death with muscle strengthening exercise, now giving us precise “doses” or prescriptions for how much time we should spend engaging in such activities to reap optimal rewards.
And, as we mentioned above, that prescription reads: 30-60 minutes spent weekly doing muscle strengthening exercises to lower the risk of all causes of death (by 10-20%), with added benefits to be reaped when including aerobic exercise alongside your muscle strengthening routine.