Wayne L. Westcott, PHD, CSCS
During the past few years, more and more studies have shown that
sensible strength training produces many health and fitness benefits.
Key researchers have provided a wealth of data on the positive
physiological responses to basic programs of strength exercise.
Consider these 12 reasons to strength train:
1. Avoid Muscle Loss
Adults who do not strength train lose
between 5 and 7 pounds of muscle for every decade (Forbes 1976,
Evans and Rosenberg 1992). Although endurance exercise improves our
cardiovascular fitness, it does not prevent the loss of muscle
tissue. Only strength exercise maintains our muscle mass and
strength throughout our mid-life years.
2. Avoid Metabolic Rate Reduction
Because muscle is very active tissue,
muscle loss is accompanied by a reduction in our resting
metabolism. Information from Keyes et al. (1973) and Evans and
Rosenberg (1992) indicates that the average adult experiences a 2 to
5 percent reduction in metabolic rate every decade of life. Because
regular strength exercise prevents muscle loss, it also prevents the
accompanying decrease in resting metabolic rate.
3. Increase Muscle Mass
Because most adults do not perform
strength exercise, they do not first replace the muscle tissue that
has been lost through inactivity. Fortunately, research (Westcott
1995) shows that a standard strength training program can increase
muscle mass by about 3 pounds over an eight-week training period.
This is the typical training response for men and women who do not
do 25 minutes of strength exercise, three days per week.
4. Increase Metabolic Rate
Research reveals that adding 3 pounds of
muscle increases our resting metabolic rate by 7 percent and our
daily calorie requirements by only 15 percent (Campbell et al.
1994). At rest, a pound of muscle requires 35 calories per day for
tissue maintenance, and during exercise muscle through sensible
strength exercise use more calories all day long, thereby reducing
the likelihood of fat accumulation.
5. Reduce Body Fat
Campbell and his co-workers (1994) found
that strength exercise produced 4 pounds of fat loss after three
months of training, even though the subjects were eating 15 percent
more calories per day. That is, a basic strength program resulted
in 3 pounds more muscle, 4 pounds less fat, and 370 more calories
per day food intake.
6. Increase Bone Mineral Density
The effects of progressive resistance
exercise are similar for muscle tissue and bone tissue. The same
training stimulus that increases muscle myoproteins also increases
bone osteoproteins and mineral content. Menkes (1993) had
demonstrated significant increases in the bone mineral density of
the upper femur after four months of strength exercise.
7. Improve Glucose Metabolism
Hurley (1994) has reported a 23 percent
increase in glucose uptake after four months of strength training.
Because poor glucose metabolism is associated with adult onset
diabetes, improved glucose metabolism is an important benefit of
regular strength exercise.
8. Increase Gastrointestinal Transit
A study by Koffler (1992) showed a 56
percent increase in gastrointestinal transit time (transit time is
faster) after three months of strength training. This is
significant due to the fact that delayed gastrointestinal transit
time is related to a higher rise of colon cancer.
9. Reduce Resting Blood Pressure
Strength training alone has been shown
to reduce resting blood pressure significantly (Harris and Holly
1987). Our study (Westcott 1995) has revealed that combining
strength training and aerobic exercise is an even more effective
means of improving blood pressure readings. After two months of
combined exercise, our program participants dropped their systolic
blood pressure by 5 mm Hg and their dystolic blood pressure by 3 mm
10. Improve Blood Lipid Levels
Although the effect of strength training
on blood lipid levels needs further research at least two studies
(Stone et al. 1982, Hurley et al. 1988) have revealed improved blood
lipid profiles after several weeks of strength exercise. It is
important to note that improvements in blood lipid levels are
similar for both endurance and strength exercise (Hurley 1994).
11. Reduce Low Back Pain
Years of research on strength training
and back pain conducted at the University of Florida Medical School
have shown that strong low-back muscles are less likely to be
injured than weaker low-back muscles. A recent study by Risch (1993) found
that low-back patients had significantly less back pain after 10
weeks of specific (full-range) strength exercise for the lumbar
spine lumbar spine muscles. Because 80 percent of Americans
experience low-back problems, it is advisable for all adults to
strengthen their lower-back muscles properly.
12. Reduce Arthritic Pain
According to a recent edition of the
Tufts university Diet and Nutrition Letter (1994). sensible strength
training eases the pain of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
This is good news, because most men and women who suffer from
arthritis pain need strength exercise to develop stronger muscles,
bones, and connective tissue.
There are 12 physiological reasons to
perform regular strength exercise. On a more basic level, it is
important to understand that proper strength training may help us to
look better, feel better, and function better. Remember that our skeletal
muscles serve as the engine, chassis, and shock absorbers of our
bodies. Consequently strength training is an effective means of
increasing our physical capacity, improving our athletic
performance, reducing our injury risk, and improving our