Resistance training, also known as strength training, is a great way to develop strength, anaerobic endurance and muscle size. Defined by The National Library of Medicine as “a combination of static and dynamic contractions involving shortening and lengthening of skeletal muscles”, resistance training makes use of exerting a force against a form of resistance, such as weights. This form of exercise provides a plethora of benefits when done correctly. The main straightforward benefit is the increase in strength and muscle size. Resistance training builds muscle and even a small change in muscle strength can help a great amount in everyday activities. The basic principle here is the ability of the body muscles to overcome a resistance force when needed, and when repeatedly made to do so, these muscle groups eventually becoming stronger. The type of resistance used will divide strength training into a few categories such as free weights, body weight, weight machines and resistance bands. This essentially means that there are many ways that you can use to perform resistance training be it at home or at the gym. A complete and well-rounded resistance training program will focus on improving bone and joint functions, bone density and strength of muscles, tendons and ligaments. It should also include aerobic exercises to improve cardio and lung fitness as well as flexibility and balance exercises.
In addition to strength gains, resistance training includes a large number of physical and mental health benefits. These benefits are both short term and long term and will help along way as an individual ages as well. Increase in muscle size and strength provides direct benefits such as burning more fat during rest, protection of joints from injury and helps maintain balance and flexibility. According to the Department of Exercise Science, inactive adults will experience a 3-8% loss of muscle mass every decade along with fat accumulation and resting metabolic rates. Studies show that ten weeks of resistance training can remedy this situation by increasing lean mass by 1.4kg and reducing fat weight by 1.8kg while increasing the resting metabolic rate by 7% (Westcott, 2012). In addition, improved posture and prevention of heart diseases, osteoporosis and diabetes will greatly help you remain healthy and happy as you age. Resistance training provides a number of mental benefits as well, such as a feeling of achievement and self-esteem, improved mood and self-confidence as well as better sleep and avoids insomnia.
The nature of exercise provided by resistance training promotes the secretion of specific hormones such as testosterone and human growth hormone. The human growth hormone is very important as it provides a large variety of functions that helps in the development and survival of an individual. It provides direct effects and also initiates the production of insulin-like growth-factor I (IGF-I). IGF-1 is the most important arbitrator of the human growth hormone’s effects. The primary function of the growth hormone is promoting growth in children and adolescents. It also has a large number of metabolic functions in an adult’s life that are well established andbacked by studies. Human growth hormone plays a vital part in regenerating cells and maintaining healthy tissues in addition to boosting exercise performance. According to a study published in the International Journal of Endocrinology, identifying the effects of human growth hormone, it was found that the increased presence of human growth hormone induces body composition and improves exercise capacity and thermoregulation (Tavares et al., 2013). In addition to the boost in endurance and exercise capacity, the human growth hormone promotes healing and is associated with promoting cell regeneration and repairing wear and tear of cells and tissues and also healing of fractures (Schmidmaier et al., 2002). The increase in secretion of growth hormone during resistance training provides a natural way of promoting these benefits in the body ensuring great health effects. Another significant hormone that is secreted during resistance training is testosterone. It is a hormone that is associated with benefits such as gaining muscle mass, strengthening bones, increasing sex drive and improving erections.
During resistance training, the production of IGF-1 can have a significant effect on the cognitive function of individuals. This hormone is associated with the production of brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) which is related to the formation of neural pathways in the brain. Emerging studies show a significant positive impact on cognitive health from resistance training. According to a study conducted on 86 women with subjective memory complaints, aged between 70-80 years of age, it was found that resistance training conducted on a twice weekly basis for six months showed improvements in memory aspects such as selective attention, associative memory and improvements in brain plasticity (Nagamatsu et al., 2012). These studies show that resistance training is a potential way of fighting cognitive issues such as dementia and promoting improved brain health.
Even from very early studies, the relationship between physical exercise and libido has been established. According to a study published in the Archives of Sexual behaviour during 1990, it was found that engaging in physical exercise improves sex drive in men. The release of hormones such as testosterone is seen as a reason for this. A study conducted on 43 women in the ages of 18-37 years with polycystic ovary syndrome found that engaging in resistance training greatly enhanced total score in the desire, excitement and lubrication domains of the Female Sexual Function Index of the test, increasing the overall sex drive in women.
Another important benefit that comes from resistance training is the increase of bone density. Conditions such as osteoporosis has become an increased risk during aging in the recent years. This condition is characterised by the increased tendency of fractured bones due to low bone mass. Primarily affecting regions of the hip, spine and wrist, an estimated 1.5 million fractures are caused by osteoporosis annually in the United States alone. Both aerobic and resistant training has been identified as physical activities that promote bone density. However, nearly two dozen extensive studies conducted over the last decade has shown that resistance training has a far better influence in increasing bone density and promoting bone health compared to traditional aerobic exercises. These studies show a direct relationship between resistance training and positive increases in bone density. When compared to other traditional medical and nutritional approaches, resistance training provides the added benefits of treating other risk factors associated with osteoporosis such as increasing strength, muscle mass and improving balance (Layne & Nelson, 1999).
In summary, engaging in resistance training for three times a week for a period of 45-60 minutes can help improve your strength and form in addition to providing a tremendous amount of benefits. These benefits include increased endurance and strength, better cognitive function, increased libido and help fight effects of aging down the road.
Westcott, W. (2012). Resistance Training is Medicine. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 11(4), pp.209-216.
Tavares, A., Micmacher, E., Biesek, S., Assumpção, R., Redorat, R., Veloso, U., Vaisman, M., Farinatti, P. and Conceição, F. (2013). Effects of Growth Hormone Administration on Muscle Strength in Men over 50 Years Old. International Journal of Endocrinology, 2013, pp.1-6.
Schmidmaier, G., Wildemann, B., Heeger, J., Gäbelein, T., Flyvbjerg, A., Bail, H. and Raschke, M. (2002). Improvement of fracture healing by systemic administration of growth hormone and local application of insulin-like growth factor-1 and transforming growth factor-β1. Bone, 31(1), pp.165-172.
Nagamatsu, L. S., Handy, T. C., Hsu, C. L., Voss, M., & Liu-Ambrose, T. (2012). Resistance training promotes cognitive and functional brain plasticity in seniors with probable mild cognitive impairment: A 6-month randomized controlled trial. Archives of Internal Medicine, 172(8), 666–668. http://doi.org/10.1001/archinternmed.2012.379
LAYNE, J., & NELSON, M. (1999). The effects of progressive resistance training on bone density: a review. Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise, 31(1), 25-30. http://dx.doi.org/10.1097/00005768-199901000-00006
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