6 reasons you should be pumping iron
Each new year brings us a new set of fitness fads. From maniacal workout DVDs to extreme slim-down organic herbal enemas, there’s no shortage of snake oil in the fitness industry. While some of these approaches produce results, oftentimes, the effects fade quickly. A science-based approach encourages the addition of multi-joint strength movements to your exercise program. The broad term for this type of exercise is, “resistance training.”
Do you even lift?
1. Resistance training can help prevent sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss):
After age 30 (yikes), our muscles start to wither at a rate of 3-5% per year. Lifting weights can reverse this sign of aging in the body, so you end up looking like this instead of this. Weight lifting, therefore is the preferred treatment for sarcopenia. Muscle loss increases the risk of injury and disability in older people, so I like to think of resistance training as a gift to my future self.
2. It helps build bone, by slowing the mineral loss associated with Osteoporosis:
Bones are living, growing tissues. In some people, the bones of the hips and spine can start to rapidly lose density. As muscles pull on bone, during weight lifting, the resulting stress increases bone density, making it stronger. Bones are also strengthened by the compressive forces of being under load, during weight-bearing exercises and from impact during jogging, dancing and jumping.
3. It can combat high blood pressure:
Resistance training causes increased circulation and bloodflow throughout the body, and dilates blood vessels. This results in a lowering of systemic blood pressure, a major risk factor for several life-threatening disorders.
4. It reduces body fat by raising your resting metabolic rate:
When considering which movements or exercises should be included, keep in mind that the biggest muscles in your body burn up lots more calories than smaller muscles. For example, your glutes, when engaged in a lift, have a far greater metabolic demand than your biceps. So, a squat is, arguably, more beneficial than curls. The calories consumed by glutes and other large muscle groups, if unused, would otherwise be stored as fat. It’s patently false that you can turn fat into muscle, or vice-versa, but you CAN tell your body what to do with the food you consume. (Use it to rebuild muscle, or store it as chunks of body blubber.)
5. It can drastically alter your hormones:
Virtually every part of your body is connected to your brain via the nerves of your peripheral nervous system. Although the brain is not a muscle, it tells every muscle in your body what to do. The communication from muscles to brain isn’t a one-way street. When under stress (heavy lifting) the skeletal muscles of your legs, arms, and trunk send messages directly to the pituitary gland (which lives smack in the center of your brain) triggering the release of human growth hormone and testosterone. In the female body, this flood of hormones acts as a powerful ally for fat loss, increased muscle tone, and powerfully shapes the butt and legs. Results in men can be even more dramatic, as these particular hormones are critical for muscle development, strength, and elevated mood.
6. It improves insulin resistance:
Another increasing health risk, in modern, Western populations, is insulin resistance. Consumption of high-carbohydrate foods like grains and sugars lead to dramatic spikes in blood insulin. When this happens too frequently, cells begin to lose their sensitivity to insulin, and rather than use the sugar as fuel, they store it as fat, for later use. This can result in a host of metabolic disorders like obesity, high cholesterol, and ultimately, Type 2 Diabetes. Simply eating low-carb isn’t enough. A weight lifting program which emphasizes large muscle lifts can increase your insulin sensitivity and steer you away from these illnesses.
In hunter-gatherer societies, people’s bodies were challenged to build shelter, forage, hunt, and perform day-to-day errands and tasks. Today, the adage, “Use it, or lose it,” has, sadly, proven true, as an increasing number of people spend their days indoors, without much physical exertion. The genius of modern labor-saving devices and modes of transportation have contributed to a scenario where exercise is not a part of life unless it’s deliberately sought out. Lack of physical activity ranks high as a risk factor for development of disease and early death. With proper resistance training, we can improve our health and appearance, as well as feel a sense of connectedness to our bodies, a sense of achievement, and an increase in emotional and psychological well-being. When your body feels strong and healthy, something analogous happens to your spirit. I’ve always been fond of the following quote, where the Bible points to the importance of bodily maintenance:
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” 1 Cor 6:19-20