Lifestyle column: Lifting weights makes you healthy

Not so long ago, lifting weights was limited to athletes and bodybuilders. The only known application was to build muscle and strength.

Ben Hanton
Ben Hanton

In terms of exercise for weight loss and health improvement, there was an overwhelming emphasis on aerobic activity.

More recently however, scientists have identified the dramatic effect of the age-related decline in muscle mass on physiological problems. Inactive adults have been shown to experience a 3% to 8% loss in muscle mass each decade.

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The decline is even more profound after the age of 50, when muscle loss occurs at a rate of 5% to 10% each decade. This is a huge problem for public health because skeletal muscle mass has a very strong influence on many conditions, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and heart disease.

Looking first at obesity, the largest component (under normal circumstances) of energy expenditure is resting metabolic rate. Resting metabolic rate is elevated in both the short term as a result of a weight training session (more so than traditional aerobic exercise!) and in the long term by an increase in muscle mass (or a reduction in the age-related decline). The likelihood of the food you eat being stored as fat is also massively reduced if you are regularly stimulating your muscle fibres at high intensities. This effect is even more profound if you eat a high-protein diet.

Increasing muscle mass and making the tissue more active through weight training is also an extremely effective way to improve insulin sensitivity and prevent type 2 diabetes, an increasingly prevalent condition. Weight training also provides the mechanical forces on bones required for modelling and remodelling, aiding the maintenance of adequate bone strength and density as we age. Interestingly, the largest voluntary loads on bone are suggested to come directly from muscle contractions rather than direct external forces, emphasising the necessity of strength and muscle mass in the prevention of osteoporosis.

In addition to the specific contribution of weight training and muscle mass to the prevention of specific conditions, there is a more general requirement for muscle mass in coping with immediate illness and trauma. When the body is in a stressed state, such as following an injury or fighting an infection or cancer, there is an increase in the liver’s production of proteins required for immune function and wound healing. The building blocks for these proteins (amino acids) are the same as those which make up skeletal muscle.

In severe cases, the requirement for these building blocks massively exceeds the rate at which we consume them in our diets; therefore we begin to breakdown muscle tissue to fulfil the requirement. So if there is already a shortage of muscle mass, as there is in most sedentary individuals, the chances of being able to fully recover from serious illness or injury is massively reduced.

The take home message is that weight training should not be viewed with apprehension by the general public, especially women and the elderly. Instead it should be acknowledged and utilised as the exceptional tool which it is in the fight against disease.

If you are interested in personal training or would just like to discuss your training and nutrition, get in touch with Ben Hanton at Elitas Fitness, Chichester. Contact Ben on 01243 920536 or via email [email protected]

For more information about Elitas Fitness, visit their website.