Benefits of Resistance Training: An Exercise Option For Everyone
If you google “resistance training” and scroll through the image results you will be flooded with pictures of young, muscular, and fit individuals performing squats, lunges, and biceps curls often with an intimidating amount of weight. Whether it’s intentional or not, what often gets communicated is that resistance training is for only a select group of individuals. In all honesty, it’s a group most don’t feel a part of.
Muscle growth is often the desired benefit of resistance training, but it certainly isn’t the only benefit it has to offer. With such a strong association between resistance training and muscle growth, there’s a danger of overlooking it as a useful exercise option for anything else. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that this oversimplified view of resistance training has contributed to the fact that only 32% of American adults engage in the recommended levels of weekly resistance training. (AJMP)
In reality, resistance training isn’t solely for muscle growth or is even limited to lifting weights. Resistance training can include the use of bands and/or bodyweight exercises and has broad applications and benefits for all types of people. Perhaps, if armed with a fuller understanding of the many benefits of resistance training, we can spark renewed participation in resistance training programs of all kinds.
In support of this, here are three surprising benefits of resistance training and why it could be an exercise option for everyone.
It’s well established that quality sleep is vital for proper health and roughly 35% of Americans report sleeping less than the recommended 7 hours per night. In fact, 67% of older adults have at least one sleep-related complaint, 30-48% of older adults suffer from insomnia, and 72 % of high schoolers get less than the recommended amount of sleep1. It would be easy for someone to lose sleep simply thinking about our modern sleep crisis.
Fortunately, resistance training can be beneficial for those struggling with sleep and sleep disorders. Resistance training can positively influence; sleep quality, sleep duration, sleep disturbances, and reported daytime dysfunction2. How long do you think the line would be if a pill reported to help you achieve longer, less interrupted, and deeper quality sleep?
One proposed method by which resistance training affects sleep is by positively influencing circadian rhythms which help regulate our sleep cycles. It's also been proposed that resistance training can aid in increasing the production of melatonin and other essential hormones that assist in improving sleep. With the yearly increases in melatonin sales, resistance training could be a natural alternative to a melatonin supplement.
Even if those sleep benefits didn’t interest you, consider that resistance training can help regulate body composition which can influence sleep quality. Obesity is a known risk factor for sleep dysfunction and a simple 10% increase in body weight can equate to a 6-fold rise in obstructive sleep apnea1. With a large percentage of our population struggling with sleep in some capacity, resistance training can be a useful exercise option for many people.
Improved Mental Health
Mental health disorders are a leading cause of disability in developing countries, especially for younger people. We certainly don’t need to look far to see the implications of this growing trend in the world around us.
Thankfully, resistance training has been shown to provide positive benefits for mental health. Resistance training can positively affect: anxiety symptoms, depression symptoms, mood states, self-esteem, social skills, substance use, stress, and self-perception3. What is even more encouraging is that these benefits are noted in both the adolescent and adult populations making resistance training a great option for people of all ages.
Arguably, the biggest benefit of resistance training is not the building of the musculoskeletal system but the building of the mind. Resistance training builds personal resilience. Resilience is the ability to recover from adversity or stated another way, the ability to regain shape after being deformed. Similar to a rubber band after being stretched.
Resilience, however, can’t simply be added to your current repertoire like an accessory, it must be developed through experiences. Resistance training is the perfect environment to provide low-risk adversity which allows you to learn the skills and techniques needed to recover and regain your shape. Resistance training is a great source of both physiological and psychological benefits making it an important exercise option for all people.
An estimated 450 million people worldwide are living with diabetes. Unfortunately, this number has been predicted to rise to as high as 700 million people by 20454. Diabetes is a disease in which the body either does not produce insulin (Type I) or becomes resistant to insulin (Type II), with type II diabetes accounting for approximately 90-95% of all diabetic cases.
Insulin is important because it’s used to shuttle sugar from the blood into cells which is then used by the body for energy. When insulin becomes ineffective, blood sugars rise and an array of health issues emerge. Since type II diabetes is often acquired later in life, interest is high for the prevention and management of diabetes. Hopefully to no surprise, resistance training has been found to play an important role.
Exercise, specifically the contraction of skeletal muscle, can improve glucose metabolism. Meaning contracting muscles help transport blood sugars into cells, the very thing type II diabetics are having trouble doing! Studies have also shown that exercises can increase insulin sensitivity which will further improve blood sugar levels for both types I and type II diabetics4. Even better, resistance training can have a compounding benefit for diabetics. Not only does contracting muscles improve blood sugars in the present but building more overall muscle tissue provides long-term benefits in reducing your likelihood to become insulin resistant4.
Resistance training can also be helpful for diabetics when other forms of exercise may be too painful or difficult for their current condition. If a diabetic is not able to walk, run, or perform other forms of aerobic activity, they could sit and/or stand in order to use hand weights or resistance bands with less difficulty and pain. Due to an alarming trend of adult and adolescent diabetes and pre-diabetes, resistance training is a viable exercise option for many people.
An Exercise Option For Everyone
Hopefully, there has been some uncoupling of the idea that resistance training is just for muscle growth. Resistance training is a vital exercise option for people of all ages who are looking to optimize their health. Improved sleep, improved mental health, and improved blood sugar levels only scratch the surface of all the wide array of benefits resistance training can offer. The next time you are thinking about starting an exercise program, don’t be so quick to overlook resistance training, there’s a good chance it will provide a lot of benefits for you.
Irandoust, Khadijeh and Morteza Taheri. “The Effect of Strength Training on quality of sleep and psychomotor performance in elderly males.” (2017).
Pascoe, Michaela et al. “Physical activity and exercise in youth mental health promotion: a scoping review.” BMJ open sport & exercise medicine vol. 6,1 e000677. 23 Jan. 2020, doi:10.1136/bmjsem-2019-000677
Codella, Roberto et al. “May the force be with you: why resistance training is essential for subjects with type 2 diabetes mellitus without complications.” Endocrine vol. 62,1 (2018): 14-25. doi:10.1007/s12020-018-1603-7