Physical activity is the natural prescription we’ve always had, but some of us haven’t taken the recommended dosage for too long.
Regardless of our age, there is a mountain of evidence to show that having an active lifestyle can help keep us healthier and happier for longer.
When we think of physical activity, our first thought is usually getting out for a walk or run. There are many benefits to aerobic activities like these; it improves our cardiovascular health and lowers our blood pressure, aids sleep, boosts our brain function and fortifies our immune systems. But, there is another important piece of the physical activity jigsaw..
Why is strength training important?
For strength training we can either use our bodyweight or equipment, such as weights machines, free weights or bands - which all help to improve our muscular strength, endurance, and muscle mass. Regardless of our goal, the aim is to place our muscles under tension to facilitate neuromuscular adaptations and to stimulate muscle growth.
Here are some of the ways that strength training can benefit us, improve our health and boost our quality of life:
1. Makes us stronger
This may seem obvious, but strength training makes us stronger. The knock-on effect from this is that we can perform everyday tasks more effectively, such as carrying heavy shopping, playing with our children and working out in the garden.
Being stronger can also lower our risk of injury by improving the stability of our joints like the knees and hips, whilst also potentially addressing muscular imbalances. It is estimated that for every 10% stronger we get, we reduce our risk of injury by 4%.
Finally, being stronger also helps us have more control over our bodies. This can help prevent falls, becoming more important as we age.
2. Burns calories efficiently
Muscle is a metabolically active tissue and a significant portion of the energy requirements for muscle mass come from the burning of fatty acids. In short, muscles help burn fat, even at rest. On a similar line, strength training has been shown to elevate our metabolic rate for up to 72 hours, meaning that we will continue to burn calories after our workouts.
3. Boosts our mental health
Strength training has been linked with high self-esteem and confidence, which could be attributed to strength training process helping us overcome challenges and improving our belief that we are able to succeed in what we want to achieve. These feelings, in turn, improve our mood and reduce anxiety. Like all forms of exercise, strength training also prompts the release of mood-boosting endorphins.
4. Protects our brain
Strength training has been shown to help protect against age-related cognitive decline, with studies showing that older people who engage in strength training maintain areas of cognitive function (e.g. processing speed and memory) compared with those who didn’t. This could be because strength training helps improve blood flow, reduces inflammation, and increases expression of a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is linked with memory and learning.