Did you know lifting weights every day can lead to more than just rock-hard abs and bulging biceps? You may be surprised to learn that weightlifting and other forms of strength training offer a wide range of physical, cognitive, and emotional health benefits. If you don’t have time to hit the gym all seven days of the week, that’s okay. It really isn’t necessary to lift weights every day to significantly boost your health.
The American Heart Association recommends strength training at least twice a week, with a minimum of two rest days in between sessions. Keep in mind that strength training can refer to the use of free weights, weight machines, exercise bands, or your own body weight. No matter which type of equipment you choose, strength training should be part of a well-rounded workout routine that also includes aerobic, core, balance, flexibility, and stretching exercises (per Mayo Clinic).
Before starting any new workout routine, it is a good idea to discuss your plans with your doctor, especially if you are older or have underlying health issues. Once medically cleared, you may benefit from working with a qualified personal trainer (via WebMD). To avoid injuries, most experts recommend focusing on proper form instead of heavy lifting. Read on to discover some of the many health benefits that you can look forward to as a result of lifting weights.
Lifting weights increases your body’s muscle mass
Performing weighted exercises like deadlifts, squats, and overhead presses can really pump up your body’s muscle mass. Along with increasing strength and endurance, having more muscle mass boosts metabolism, reduces injury risk, and makes it easier to perform normal daily activities, according to Livestrong.
Lifting weights also helps prevent sarcopenia, a condition involving loss of muscle mass and function. A 2014 review published in Clinical Cases in Mineral and Bone Metabolism suggests that while sarcopenia is more common in older adults, younger individuals can also be affected. Common risk factors involve age, sex, underlying health issues, and level of physical activity.
Men’s Health offered tips on how to get the most out of your weightlifting workouts. Their recommendations include eating plenty of protein, working multiple joints and muscle groups, and having something to eat every three hours. If you plan to lift weights every day, limit exhaustive training sessions to three days a week.
You may lose weight
Although you may believe that cardiovascular activity is the golden key to weight loss, it may not be the best way to reach your goals. Instead, Women’s Health applauds weightlifting as "the number one rule of exercising for weight loss."
Increased muscle mass can help you burn more calories, even while at rest (per WebMD). However, as WW points out, you may not notice immediate weight loss; some individuals have no initial weight change or even gain weight. While this can certainly be discouraging, staying the course is key to experiencing a wealth of health benefits.
In addition to burning calories, lifting weights can melt away body fat. The New York Times reports on a study involving "bodybuilding mice" (yes, bodybuilding mice!) that investigates the mechanisms behind this phenomenon: Tiny bubbles of genetic material called vesicles are released into the bloodstream when strength training. These vesicles appear to communicate with fat cells, leading to their breakdown.
Lifting weights can raise self-esteem and self-confidence
Sure, it probably feels great to rock that crop top and show off lean muscle. But there are so many other ways in which weight training can pump up your self-esteem and self-confidence. For one thing, according to Healthy Place, strength training quite literally changes your brain by releasing natural endorphins known to improve one’s outlook. Lifting weights can also teach you how to overcome obstacles and achieve goals. Outside of the gym, these important skills can transfer to success in career, social relationships, and other areas of life.
NBC News also chimes in on the many mind-body benefits of strength training. Of note, they explain how the perceived feeling of physical gains, as opposed to actual measurable gains, is enough to result in higher self-esteem among teens. Additionally, quick results from strength training can be a powerful motivator to continue.
Our bottom line on weight training and emotional health? If you need a little (or a big) pick-me-up, go ahead and give lifting weights a try.
Your heart will thank you
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), someone in the United States dies from heart disease every 36 seconds. Thankfully, lifting weights can benefit your heart. A study conducted by Iowa State University explains that just a small amount of weightlifting each week (less than an hour) may reduce your risk for heart attack and stroke by 40 to 70% (via Science Daily). It may also help you avoid potentially serious health issues like metabolic syndrome, high cholesterol levels, and diabetes.
However, there are a couple of potential downsides to strength training as compared to cardiovascular activities (think: walking or biking). For one, it may be more challenging to fit into your daily routine. Also, lifting weights requires access to weights (obviously!). While ultimately you may decide to treat yourself to a membership at a nearby gym, keep in mind that you can use bodyweight alone to achieve many of the same health results. Also, remember that even a small amount of strength training can benefit your heart health (via The Washington Post).
Lifting weights can help you think more clearly
Not only can lifting weights boost your mood, but it may also help improve memory and reasoning. In one experiment, an Australian research team assigned either strength training or stretching exercises to individuals with mild cognitive impairment for a six-month period (via Harvard Health). In the end, those with the greatest strength gains also experienced the greatest improvement on cognitive function tests.
Additional academic research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology suggests that strength training may be helpful in treating neurodegenerative disease. In the study, researchers trained progressively weighted rats to climb ladders, then measured an improvement in their cognitive function. While the study had some limitations, further investigation seems warranted.
Despite being a wide-ranging phenomenon (both for humans and for rats), feeling more clear-headed after exercise is not entirely understood (via Scientific American). It may have something to do with increased blood flow to the brain or the fact that the hippocampus becomes more active during exercise, firing off additional neurons.
You may be less likely to get injured
Do you consider yourself accident-prone? Well, we have some great news for you. Lifting weights can actually help prevent injuries, Dr. Adam Rivadeneyra, a sports medicine physician with Hoag Orthopedic Institute in California confirmed to U.S. News & World Report. It reduces injury risk by strengthening your body’s bone, muscle, and connective tissue. And, when injuries do inevitably occur, they may be less severe, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.
That said, you may be concerned about injuries while weight training –– and understandably so. In strength-related sports, the average rate of injuries is one to two injuries per year (via Evidence Strong). To avoid injury, it is crucial to maintain proper form during workouts. Verywell Fit recommends taking extra care with the lower back, shoulders, and knees. Whether you are a weightlifting newbie or a competitive athlete, it may be beneficial to work with a qualified trainer all the same.
Lifting weights can reduce anxiety
If you are generally stressed out, it may be helpful to schedule some time at the gym. Science shows that engaging in a resistance training program for six weeks or longer can reduce anxiety levels (via Psychology Today). Interestingly, even a single workout can be beneficial. The reduction in anxiety levels may be due, in part, to improved quality of sleep.
Strength training can also have an impact on "anxiety sensitivity," which is when an individual fears the physical sensations of anxiety, Psychology Today explained. An example of this is when someone experiencing an elevated heart rate due to anxiety and believes they are having a heart attack. The practice of lifting weights can help individuals become more comfortable with certain sensations, such as heavy breathing or excessive sweating. Normalizing these sensations can keep underlying anxiety from escalating.
A 2014 study published in Frontiers in Psychology reveals that "resistance training at a low-to-moderate intensity" leads to the best results for decreasing anxiety. In other words, when exercising for the sake of your mental health, you don’t need to completely exhaust your muscles.
Lifting weights can lift your mood
It may cheer you up to learn that lifting weights can improve your mental health — and, no, it’s not just beneficial for those with anxiety disorders. As a 2018 meta-analysis published in JAMA Psychiatry detailed, resistance training can have some antidepressant effects. It concludes that resistance training significantly reduces symptoms among adults. What doesn’t appear to matter? A participant’s initial health status, the prescribed amount of training, and actual improvements in strength. In other words, pretty much everyone’s mental health can benefit from even a small amount of training.
The research study observed that both psychological and physiological factors could be involved in boosting mood. For example, participants could benefit from "social interaction and social support" while working out, lead author Brett Gordon told Psychology Today. Another potential contributor is that the expectation of feeling better after exercise can lead to improved mood.
You may finally find your balance
According to WebMD, balance is required to perform daily activities like walking, standing up from a chair, and tying your shoes. While yoga, tai chi, and other balance training programs are often recommended, lifting weights is another way to find your best footing. Targeted areas of the body should include the core, arms, legs, glutes, and back.
As you may already know, body strength progressively declines as we age. This can lead to falls, hip fractures, osteoporosis, and a more sedentary lifestyle, as a 2013 study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science highlighted. In the study, a prescribed strength training routine improved both strength and balance in active, elderly subjects. Although more research is needed, researchers suggest that strength training may have an even greater impact on less active individuals.
Balance can affect quality of life, although this is not commonly discussed until there’s a problem. Additionally, a range of health conditions can impact balance, including cardiovascular problems, Parkinson’s disease, hypotension, and joint issues (via Mayo Clinic). Lifting weights is one important way to mitigate balance deterioration due to both aging and disease.
Lifting weights can help prevent cancer
According to the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR), it has been scientifically proven that exercise can reduce your risk of developing many types of cancer. Exercise helps by lowering hormones, reducing inflammation, and slowing weight gain. An Australian-based research group studied 800,000 adults and concluded that strength training is more likely to extend your life than cardiovascular activities. More specifically, strength training twice a week may have a profound impact on the longevity of cancer patients, reducing the likelihood of dying from cancer by 31% (via NFCR).
So, which types of cancer can weightlifting prevent? To start, weight training may protect you from breast cancer (via MD Anderson). Additionally, a 2019 study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise examined how strength training influenced 10 different types of cancer. It was found that weight training led to significantly reduced rates of colon cancer, along with a trend towards reduced rates of kidney cancer.
Not only can lifting weights reduce some cancer risks, but it may also help keep cancer from recurring (via WebMD). To improve the odds of a longer, cancer-free life, many experts advise that cancer survivors regularly participate in aerobic, strength, and flexibility training after completing treatment.
You might discover relief from chronic health issues
If you have chronic health issues like diabetes, high blood pressure, or elevated cholesterol levels, take note. Lifting weights may be a useful tool in diabetes treatment and the prevention of metabolic disease. A 2013 study by Biomed Research International found that resistance training can improve insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. The researchers also observed that resistance training generally involves less time than high-volume endurance training, suggesting that busy people with diabetes (or otherwise) may be more likely to participate in this particular form of exercise.
Plus, weight training can alleviate some of the side effects of certain cancers, such as breast cancer (per MD Anderson). This is because lifting weights boosts metabolism, helps you lose weight, increases bone density, and helps you retain the ability to perform daily activities. According to Dana Farber Cancer Institute, strength training may also increase cancer survival rates. If you’re interested in improving your odds, look for a trainer who is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine to work with cancer survivors.
Your bones will become stronger
Did you know that exercising regularly can help prevent bone loss and osteoporosis? This especially matters because weakened bones can lead to sudden, painful bone fractures (via Cleveland Clinic). About 54 million people in the United States have osteoporosis, a common disease that affects women disproportionately.
According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, the best exercises for bone health are weight-bearing ones (e.g., walking, jogging, or dancing) and resistance training, i.e., lifting weights. If you are concerned about your bone health, ask your doctor about having a bone mineral density test. If you’ve already been diagnosed with low bone mass, make sure to talk to your doctor before lifting weights. They may recommend limiting certain movements in order to protect the spine or other areas of the body.
Additionally, Healthline recommends a number of strength training exercises to build healthier bones, including squats, bicep curls, and shoulder lifts. Your doctor can also guide you towards appropriate exercises based on your age, physical limitations, and overall health. They may also recommend a higher intake of calcium and Vitamin D (via Cleveland Clinic).
Weightlifting can lead to a ‘strong and more chiseled core’
Abdominal fat is not just the cause of too-tight pants — it has also been linked to heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers (per Prevention). According to a 2014 study published in Obesity Journal, there appears to be a significant correlation between weight training and reduced waist circumference among healthy young white men. However, further study is needed to determine the effects of lifting weights on older men, women, and people of other ethnicities.
Unfortunately, you can’t specifically target abdominal fat. "Spot reduction isn’t a viable approach to losing belly fat," fitness trainer Corey Phelps confirmed in an interview with Prevention. "But there are some great core-focused exercises that will torch fat all over the body, resulting in a strong and more chiseled core." The article offers up a helpful list of core-focused exercises to melt away abdominal fat. (Hint: Performing abdominal crunches and other spot reduction exercises may not be the best way to go.) Expert recommendations include doing burpees, slamming medical balls, and, of course, lifting weights.
You may experience a better quality of life
With all of the benefits weightlifting provides, it probably comes as no surprise to you that lifting weights can improve your overall quality of life (via Mayo Clinic).
A 2019 review by Health Promotion Perspectives examined the effects of resistance training on physical and mental health of older adults in the United States. The research concluded that resistance training is an effective method of improving health-related quality of life in this population. The American College of Sports Medicine even states that "resistance training is medicine," explaining that it can reduce lower back pain, improve cardiovascular health, decrease visceral fat, alleviate symptoms from arthritis and fibromyalgia, and reverse the debilitating effects of inactivity.
And if you need another reason to lift weights, here you go: Not only can lifting weights help you live better, it may even help you live longer, according to the University of Michigan.