If you’re looking for ways to extend both your lifespan and your healthspan (the number of healthy years lived free from disease), it’s no secret that you need to adopt some healthy lifestyle habits. However, you may be surprised to learn that among the top five ways to add healthy years to your life is strength training, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). That’s because lifting heavier weights impacts your body in several ways beyond the obvious muscle-building benefits. To learn more, we spoke with fitness pro Kate Meier, CPT, a certified personal trainer with Gym Garage Reviews, to get her take on the top side effects of regular strength training.
It’s important to note that strength training (aka resistance training or weightlifting) is an activity everyone should do—not just bodybuilders and athletes. Regular strength training is beneficial for all people, regardless of age or fitness level, since it helps prevent the natural loss of muscle mass and function that occurs with aging (medically referred to as sarcopenia). In addition, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that regular strength training can help reduce your risk of chronic conditions, including heart disease and diabetes.
Whether you’re a beginner, a seasoned weightlifter, or want to start strength training, keep reading to find out what Meier says are the top five side effects and benefits of lifting heavier weights. And when you’re done, check out The #1 Strength Training Workout for Rapid Weight Loss, Trainer Says.
More robust, better-functioning muscles offer more benefits than simply looking good at the beach. Research shows that resistance training is full of health benefits, like a boost in your muscle mass, strength, and bone density. Increased muscle mass and strength can improve your overall quality of life by enhancing your ability to perform daily activities, like carrying groceries, shoveling snow, or playing with your kids. However, it’s important to note that it’s a good idea to start light and increase weight as your muscles adapt and your strength increases.
“Muscle tissue breaks down when you lift, only to build back up and then some during rest and recovery periods. Basic muscle building, called hypertrophy, happens in moderate sets of six to 12 reps at about 75% to 85% effort. So when lifting to push your strength further, aim to perform one to five reps per set at 85% or more of your one-rep max for any given strength exercise,” says Meier.
Another surprising benefit of lifting heavy is improved mobility and range of motion, according to research. You’d think the opposite, considering strength training involves plenty of time under tension, but it can boost mobility when combined with a regular stretching routine.
“Many athletes may think of stretching or light weights when they think of mobility training. However, lifting heavy at full ranges of motion is an underrated strategy for improving mobility in everyday life,” says Meier. “The key is to build your range of motion over time the same way you would add weight over time. Before progressing to heavier loads, ensure your range of motion and form is stellar.”
When combined with a nutritious diet and a calorie deficit, heavy lifting is an effective way to melt away body fat while maintaining lean muscle tissue and increasing strength, according to research.
“Lifting heavy helps you burn fat in a roundabout way. Since you build muscle as you lift and eat a healthy diet to fuel your training, that muscle tissue requires calories to stay fueled throughout the day. The more muscle you build, the more calories your body consumes at rest—even while you’re sleeping,” Meier explains.
If there’s one aspect of aging that impacts us all at one point or another, it’s joint health. While there’s a common misconception that going heavy in your lifts causes joint damage over time, this is only true if you perform the movements improperly or don’t gradually work your way up to the heavier load. For example, a 2020 study published in Sports Health found that strength training improves pain and physical function in knee osteoarthritis.
“If you train within your abilities and focus on good form, research supports the idea of weight training for joint health and pain reduction over time,” says Meier.
Strength training helps add healthy years to your life by decreasing your risk of injury and falls and enhancing metabolic health markers, such as blood sugar control, insulin sensitivity, and weight loss. In addition, regular heavy lifting improves your body’s ability to handle stress, making you more capable of handling whatever hurdles life puts in front of you.
“Research suggests that weight training may have many benefits that improve overall longevity. These include a reduced risk of diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, as well as improved brain health,” says Meier. “Lifting weights can also increase bone strength, which is important to help prevent osteoporosis in older age, especially for women. Together, these benefits may help you live longer and have a better quality of life.”
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