Health: Head for the Weights

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Kate Cracknell and Reney Nazim offer five reasons why you should head for the weights.

Training our muscles isn’t just about toning up and looking good. It’s also key to weight loss, mental health and ageing well.

What does your typical workout look like? Are you a cardio fan, always opting for a heart-pumping session on the treadmill, bike, cross-trainer or rower – all the while steering away from the weights?

If so, consider this: alongside the recommended 150 minutes of moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise we do each week, experts now advocate twice- weekly strengthening and balance activities for all adults to maintain and improve health.

And with good reason. Whether your preferred form of strength training involves fixed machines, free weights or even just your body weight – there are huge benefits to be gained. Training our muscles is categorically not just about toning up and looking good; the 650+ muscles of our body also impact our metabolism, our mood and the ageing of our body.

Here, we outline five important reasons why we should all include strength training in our workout routines…

#1 – It helps you lose weight While you might want to get on a cardio machine to burn calories today, it’s weight training that’s key to boosting your body’s ongoing calorie burn. That’s because, in addition to burning calories during the workout itself, weight training also increases your resting metabolism – that is, the rate at which your body burns calories when you’re just going about your day rather than exercising.

A study by group exercise specialist Les Mills compared the physiological effects of two distinct types of class – free weights and cycling – and found that Human Growth Hormone
(HGH) was significantly higher after a free-weights workout than after cycling. This is significant, because HGH burns fat and builds lean muscle tissue – and muscle tissue is important for ongoing calorie expenditure, because it burns more calories than fat. The more muscle you can build, the more calories your body will burn, even when you’re resting or asleep.

The result? A 2017 study published in the journal Obesity found that, compared with dieters who didn’t exercise and those who did only aerobic exercise, dieters who did strength training four times a week for 18 months lost the most fat – about 18lbs, compared with 10lbs for non-exercisers and 16lbs for aerobic exercisers.

#2 – It improves your mood Resistance training is an energy booster: it can elevate your levels of endorphins, which in turn lifts energy levels and improves mood. But there’s more to it than the instant feel- good factor: there also appears to be a connection between muscle training and the alleviation of depression. A meta-analysis published in JAMA Psychiatry in 2018 examined the results of 33 studies on depression and strength training – studies that spanned 2,000 participants in total, both male and female and of various ages.

The aggregated results showed a significant reduction in the incidence of depression as a result of resistance training. Those with mild to moderate depression who strength trained two or more days a week saw notable reductions in their symptoms; the findings suggested even greater benefits for those with more severe depression.

Interestingly, people got a mood boost from resistance training regardless of their health status: whether they were clinically depressed before their respective studies commenced or not, they were less likely to be depressed at the conclusion if they had been assigned to a weight-training group.

Additionally, improvements in mood were seen regardless of how often people took part in resistance training, and irrespective of whether (or not) they actually got stronger as a result of their workouts.