Sure-fire, get-in-the-best-shape-of-your-life-or-your-money-back fitness fads have been around for thousands of years. Just in my lifetime, I’ve seen boot camps, Bowflex, CrossFit, hula hooping, Insanity, Jazzercise, kettle bells, P90X, Pilates, pole dancing, spinning, Tabata — and that’s by no means a complete list. Over the years — centuries really — one method won’t ever show up on a list of fads, but, despite the lack of hype, it may very well be the most beneficial of the bunch: good, old-fashioned weightlifting. Let’s take a look at some of the proven benefits of weight training.
In excessive quantities, testosterone can be problematic. But in normal quantities, it motivates us, gives us energy, helps us take the initiative, and gives us a sex drive (women have testosterone, too). Below-normal levels of testosterone have been linked with depression, lack of drive, concentration problems, fatigue, irritability, physical weakness, diminished or absent sex drive, sleep problems, trouble coping with stress, your overall risk of mortality and more. Strength training boosts the body’s natural testosterone production.
Weight training has been shown to increase bone density (thereby reducing the risk of fractures in older adults), improve balance (which reduces the risk of falls that might cause fractures), reduce the risk of stroke by as much as 40%, lower blood pressure (some studies show that two weight-training sessions per week is as effective as blood-pressure-lowering meds), strengthen the heart, reduce diabetes risk and cancer, and improve longevity. UCLA researcher Arun Karlamangla, M.D. summed it up like this: “… the greater your muscle mass, the lower your risk of death. Thus, rather than worrying about weight or body mass index, we should be trying to maximize and maintain muscle mass."
Strength training helps offset the half-pound of muscle mass we lose every year after about age 30. It also increases your strength, flexibility and endurance. That makes us less likely to get injured doing other athletic activities. Strength, flexibility and stamina are also quite helpful to maintaining your sex life.
Theoretically, we spend about 30% of our life sleeping. But in reality, many of us are chronically tired. Regularly getting less than 6 hours of sleep is associated with a host of serious health risks, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, obesity, mental illness, car accidents and general cognitive impairment (see below). Researchers Patrick O'Connor, Matthew Herring, and Amanda Caravalho found that people with sleep problems who did regular strength training for 8-10 weeks had a 30% improvement in the quantity of their sleep. Older adults who did regular weight training reduced the number of times they got up at night compared to those who didn’t do any exercise.
By changing the shape of your body in a good way, weight training may improve your self-esteem. It also training triggers a release of endorphins, which help reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression. A little anxiety is a good thing— it keeps us aware, makes us focus, and gives us the energy to run away from dangerous situations. But too much anxiety can ruin your sleep, cause physical pain, and have a negative effect on your whole life. O'Connor, Herring, and Caravalho found that people who did weight training and cardio three times per week experienced less depression than those who didn’t get that exercise.