Yeah yeah, we get it. Everyone here knows that strength training helps you feel like a badass, but we’re pretty fed up of hearing that strength training sculpts your body and reduces belly fat. We don’t spend hours of our week lifting more than our bodyweight to look like Kim Kardashian – we do it because we know it benefits us physically, emotionally, and mentally. I’ve also been recently irritated by a Facebook ad that said resistance training wasn’t suitable for women, so I wanted to put the record straight in case there are some out there who still believe that.
But how exactly are we future-proofing our health by strength training? Read on to find out how strength training can help balance hormones, increase bone health, and could even reverse ageing factors.
Don’t think that hormones are just to do with our menstrual cycle or sexual activity – your hormones manage pretty much every process in your body with our muscles controlling the way hormones are released and also how they’re regulated. The more muscle we have, the better we can regulate, and of course strength training is something that helps grow your muscles.
Even if our muscles didn’t grow, the act of strength training stimulates the release of human growth hormone (HGH) which increases insulin sensitivity, helping to control blood sugar and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Strength training has also been linked to stimulating production of sex hormones testosterone and estrogen. As men age their testosterone level drops in relation to their estrogen, which can negatively effect energy levels, bone density, and sexual function. Low estrogren in women can lead to osteoporosis, heart disease, and general hormone dysregulation. All great reasons for shifting tin long into our lives.
There is a hormone that can have a negative impact if we over-train, and that’s cortisol. You can read here in further detail how cortisol affects our training and what we can do to counteract this, but if you’re sleeping badly, feeling exhausted and not progressing in your training, then it might be time to take a step back and have a critical look at your training volume.
Anecdotally, one of my clients who has had anemia most of her adult life has found that since starting strength training her blood tests have been improved so that every element is within normal parameters. This is despite her being active before, running multiple times per week. I’m struggling to find any specific evidence to support this but upon discussing it, we attributed this to having more muscle mass thus improved hormonal management.
The increased sex hormones in both men and women help delay the onset of osteoporosis for sure, but there’s another way strength training can help keep our bones strong. Although the impact of strength training is low, the force of your muscles pulling against your bones appears to be enough to stimulate bone growth, especially during squats.
Although the wording does tend to be cautious – delaying onset of osteoporosis – a review showed that bone mineral density can be increased by up to 3% in response to strength training, with one study showing an increase of up to 7%. Even bodyweight exercises use muscle contraction so even if you’re a complete beginner you can still get the bone density benefit!
It’s assumed that strength training is bad for those with high blood pressure, as it does cause a temporary increase in blood pressure, but the benefits of regular strength training outweigh the risks of this temporary spike. A study showed that strength training 3 times per week for 12 weeks reduced participants’ blood pressure by 16mm Hg, in comparison to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise most days per week, which reduced blood pressure by 4-9mm Hg. That being said, you should only start training if your high blood pressure is currently under control, and I’d recommend seeking the advice of a Personal Trainer with further relevant qualifications.
This one is personal to me – my mum has had high blood pressure for a long time, and when she began strength training her blood pressure dropped to normal levels, to the point she was ready to come off her medication. Unfortunately she hasn’t been too well recently but she’s looking forward to getting back to training and feeling strong again.
But… doesn’t strength training cause DOMS, thus more pain?! Actually, studies have shown that strength training helps manage different types of chronic pain. This study showed that perceived fatigue, depression, and neck pain was reduced in a group of premenopausal women with fibromyalgia. For those with chronic back pain, again a study shows improved pain management compared to aerobic training alone, and osteoarthritis pain has also been shown to reduce when strength training.
It’s tough to say why strength training might help chronic pain, especially as chronic pain can have little identifiable cause, but I have a couple of theories on this, given everything I’ve discussed already: it’s a given that stronger muscles will help support over-stressed joints, but these muscles will also be regulating hormones better, which have a knock-on effect for pretty much every other bodily process. Starting a strength training routine when you have chronic pain will be hard work but it’ll be worth it – just play each day by ear and do what you can to start off with.
This one’s a biggie that seems too good to be true, but there is research out there to support it (1, 2): strength training has been shown to reduce oxidative damage to DNA, and may reverse damage in the mitochondria – that’s the energy powerhouse of cells – so much so their mitochondrial characteristics became similar to those in moderately active young adults.
Now, we’re not all going to look like 21-year-olds again, but this could mean we feel more energetic during exercise and during day-to-day life.
Wow. Seriously, you can exercise however you want, but given all of these benefits (and more I haven’t had space to feature) I really do encourage you to incorporate a form of strength training into your exercise regime. I know that I will be doing for the rest of my life.
None of this means you should be skipping your cardio, however. Cardiovascular exercise is still very important for keeping your heart and lungs strong and will do some of the jobs that strength training also does, like lower blood pressure, stress reduction and improved sleep – so think of strength and cardio as your two-pronged attack, whilst you also work hard on nutrition and recovery. You’re likely to be healthier, for longer into your life – what’s not to love?
Welcome to That Squat Bot, established 2013! I'm Sarah, a fitness professional based in Manchester, UK.
I love feeling strong and lifting heavy, but I also love trying different types of movement and using my fitness to adventure outside of the gym. I'm also a massive Marvel nerd!Find out more about me here.
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