Thirty years ago the phrase “weight training” caused one to conjure up images of a few unusual young men inflicting various methods of self-torture upon themselves. The elderly were told they would have a heart attack if they pursued such an endeavor, not to mention the confused, non-understanding looks they would have to endure at the mention of such a practice.
As 2004 arrives on the calendar the benefits of weight training are being touted not only for athletes, but also (possibly most importantly) for America’s aging population. Researchers are telling us that the practice of weight training possesses the power to drastically lower the incidence of the greatest causes of death and suffering in this country.
Here are 6 reasons why you can’t afford not to weight train:
- Heart Disease: A study appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that men who weight train for at least 30 minutes per week have a 23% reduction in coronary artery disease, which is the most common type of heart disease.[i] Another study found that men who exercise for at least 2 hours per week have a 60% lower risk of having a heart attack! [ii]
- Depression and Mood: Strength training has been shown to alleviate depression and anxiety to an extent comparable to drug therapy, but without the side effects.[iii] [iv] Strength training is a potent stimulus for the release of mood elevating hormones. It regulates our body chemistry, gets our energy moving, and contributes to a positive body image. Chronic aches and pains are alleviated and we feel strong, competent, and able.
- Arthritis: A recent study on people with arthritis of the knee found that strength training led to a 43% decrease in pain and a 44% increase in function.[v] Other studies have demonstrated similar findings.[vi] Muscles support joints and guide their movements. This cushioning and guidance also protects healthy joints from developing arthritis. People with painful arthritis often fear that weight training will further damage their joints. The truth is that exercise should be a first line of treatment.
- Type 2 Diabetes: Muscles are the main storehouse of glucose in the body. The muscle loss often associated with aging means that not as much glucose can be stored. This can cause blood glucose levels to become chronically elevated resulting in type 2 diabetes. Research done in individuals with type 2 diabetes has shown that weight training alone leads to better glucose control and less need for medication.[vii] [viii] In addition, weight training is an excellent long-term method of weight control, and obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Ten pounds of muscle burns 300-500 calories per day at rest!
- Osteoporosis: Bones grow according to the stresses we place upon them. During weight training the bones are stressed both by the weights used and by the pulling of the muscles. Normally we see a decline in bone density after menopause, but individuals who participate in regular strength training can actually increase their bone density.[ix] The gains made in bone density are only slightly less than those seen with hormone replacement therapy, but without the side effects of increased rates of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and dementia.
- Independent Living: One of the greatest predictors of independent living is muscle strength. This means that the stronger you are, the less likely you are to need assistance such as nursing homes or in-home-care as you age.[xi] [xii] This may be the single greatest reason for you to strength train. Many people fear being dependant upon others at the end of their lives. Strength training will not only extend your life, but will give you the independence to enjoy it!
As we enter the New Year I encourage to take stock of your current health and to look into your future. Paint a picture of yourself 20 or 30 years from now. Imagine yourself in a wheelchair, having forgotten whether you’ve taken your 8 different medications for your osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes, arthritic pain, and depression (who wouldn’t be depressed?) – each with its own host of side effects. Now imagine yourself vibrant and healthy, enjoying your retirement while continuing to be of service to your fellow man, strong in body and mind. Think it’s impossible? Ask Jack Lalanne, he’s 89 and loving it. The choice is simple—set aside 30-45 minutes 2-3 times per week for one of the most important health-promoting practices you can engage in—strength training.
[i] Tanasescu M, Leitzmann MF, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Stampfer MJ, Hu FB. Exercise Type and Intensity in Relation to Coronary Heart Disease in Men. JAMA. 2002;288:1994-2000.
[ii] Puffer JC. Exercise and Heart Disease. Clin Cornerstone. 3(5):1-7, 2001. © 2001 Excerpta Medica, Inc.
[iii] Singh NA, Clements KM, Singh MA. The efficacy of exercise as a long-term antidepressant in elderly subjects: a randomized, controlled trial. Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. 2001 Aug;56(8):M497-504.
[iv] Timonen L, Rantanen T, Timonen TE, Sulkava R. Effects of a group-based exercise program on the mood state of frail older women after discharge from hospital. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2002 Dec;17(12):1106-11.
[v] Baker KR, Nelson ME, Felson DT, Layne JE, Sarno R, Roubenoff R. The efficacy of home based progressive strength training in older adults with knee osteoarthritis: a randomized controlled trial. J Rheumatol. 2001 Jul;28(7):1655-65.
[vi] Hurley MV. The role of muscle weakness in the pathogenesis of osteoarthritis. Rheum Dis Clin North Am. 1999 May;25(2):283-98,
[vii] Castaneda C, Layne JE, Munoz-Orians L, Gordon PL, Walsmith J, Foldvari M, Roubenoff R, Tucker KL, Nelson ME. A randomized controlled trial of resistance exercise training to improve glycemic control in older adults with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2002 Dec;25(12):2335-41.
[viii] Willey KA, Singh MA. Battling insulin resistance in elderly obese people with type 2 diabetes: bring on the heavy weights. Diabetes Care. 2003 May;26(5):1580-8.
[ix] Cussler EC, Lohman TG, Going SB, Houtkooper LB, Metcalfe LL, Flint-Wagner HG, Harris RB, Teixiera PJ. Weight Lifted in Strength Training Predicts Bone Change in Postmenopausal Women. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 35(1): 10-17; Jan 2003.
[x] Kemmler WG, Engelke K, Lauber D, Weineck J, Hensen J, Kalender WA. Exercise effects on fitness and bone mineral density in early postmenopausal women: 1-year EFOPS results. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 34(12): 2115-2123; Dec 2002.
[xi] Marcell TJ. Sarcopenia: causes, consequences, and preventions. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2003 Oct;58(10):M911-6.
[xii] Bassey EJ, Fiatarone MA, O'Neill EF, Kelly M, Evans WJ, Lipsitz LA. Leg extensor power and functional performance in very old men and women. Clin Sci (Lond). 1992 Mar;82(3):321-7.