5 ways building strength can improve your health

Strength training isn't just about getting strong muscles – it could actually help us live longer. Picture: Jonathan Borba /Unsplash

Strength training isn't just about getting strong muscles – it could actually help us live longer. Picture: Jonathan Borba /Unsplash

Published Mar 13, 2024


Strength training isn't just about getting strong muscles – it could actually help us live longer.

The findings of the study are part of a larger study, published in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology, that evaluated the differences in the effects of exercise between men and women.

"Our recent study found that women who do strength training exercise two to three days a week have a lower risk of heart disease and are more likely to live longer," said Martha Gulati, director of preventive cardiology at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles.

The study, which included 400,000 participants, revealed some surprising results. “We were incredibly impressed by the findings," said Gulati. "Only one in five women were doing regular weight training, but those who did saw tremendous benefits.

"What surprised us the most was the fact that women who do muscle strengthening had a reduction in their cardiovascular mortality by 30%," added Gulati. "We don't have many things that reduce mortality in that way."

Here are five ways building strength can boost good health:

Strength training helps protect joints

Strength training can help protect joints in several ways. When you engage in strength training, you strengthen the muscles around your joints, which helps to provide better support and stability for the joints.

This can help reduce the risk of injury and also alleviate stress on the joints during daily activities and exercise.

Strength training can help improve bone density. Picture: Yulissa Tagle/Unsplash

Strength training can help improve bone density, which is beneficial for joint health. Stronger bones can provide better support for the joints and reduce the risk of conditions such as osteoporosis.

Building muscle burns more calories

Building muscle can help the body burn more calories, even when at rest. This is because muscle tissue needs more energy to stay healthy compared to fat tissue. Research shows that for every inch of muscle gained, the body can burn an extra 50 calories per day when at rest.

This means that people with more muscle may burn more calories without doing any extra physical activity.

Resistance training protects against injuries and falls

Resistance training, also known as strength training, can help protect against injuries and falls in several ways.

Research has shown that resistance training can improve muscle strength, balance and coordination, which are all important factors in preventing injuries and falls, especially in older adults.

Since muscle mass peaks in our 30s and then starts a long, slow decline, we need to take steps to slow this down.

If we don't do strength training exercises, we're more likely to become weak, increasing the risk of falls, which is the top cause of death among older adults.

By strengthening the muscles, resistance training can improve stability and support around the joints, reducing the risk of strains, sprains and other musculoskeletal injuries.

Additionally, resistance training can enhance bone density, which is crucial for preventing fractures and osteoporosis, particularly in older individuals.

Strength training helps control blood sugar

South Africa has the highest prevalence of diabetes in Africa with 11.3% of the population being affected.

Strength training can help control blood sugar levels in several ways. Research has shown that engaging in strength training exercises, such as weightlifting or resistance training, can lead to improved insulin sensitivity, which is crucial for regulating blood sugar.

When muscles are engaged in strength training, they require more glucose for energy. This increased demand for glucose can lead to improved uptake of blood sugar by the muscles, helping to lower blood sugar levels.

Muscle building may help boost mood

A meta-analysis published in the medical journal called JAMA Psychiatry, in 2018, which included the results of more than 30 clinical trials, found a reduction in symptoms of depression among people who did weight training two times a week or more.

Strength training has also been shown to improve depressive symptoms in people at risk of metabolic disease. And, research shows strength training can tamp down anxiety, too.

It makes sense that our moods improve when we move.

What types of strength training exercises can women do two to three days a week to lower their risk of heart disease?

Weightlifting: Using dumbbells, barbells or kettlebells to perform exercises such as bicep curls, shoulder presses and squats.

Bodyweight exercises: Incorporating push-ups, lunges and planks, which use the body's own weight for resistance.

Resistance band exercises: Using the bands to perform exercises targeting different muscle groups, such as rows, chest presses and leg extensions.