Weight training, as part of any daily physical exercise routine, helps reduce abdominal fat and provides more benefits than aerobic exercise alone. While a recent study provided significant data showing that weight training keeps aging waistlines from expanding, weight training has also been shown to improve glucose control, reduce falls, relieve arthritis pain, improve sleep and state of mind, and enhance heart health.
In December of 2014, researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health published a study online in the journal Obesity, proving that just 20 minutes of daily weight-training can stave off age-related increases in abdominal fat. The study is significant because it is a long-term study with a large sample size, analyzing data spanning a 12-year period from more than 10,500 healthy U.S. males over the age of 40.
The Harvard study’s authors conclude that the most effective physical exercise regimens combine weight training with aerobic exercise. While aerobic exercise such as walking, running or swimming helps maintain heart and lung function, strength training works specifically to keep muscles and bones strong. Researchers found that combining exercise types helps to both preserve and increase lean muscle mass, which is important because muscle mass is known to decrease with aging.
Age-related disappearing lean muscle mass is naturally replaced by fatty tissue that most commonly accumulates around the midsection. This abdominal fat, also referred to as visceral fat, surrounds the body’s internal organs and is known to increase the risk of heart disease even more than subcutaneous fat, which is stored beneath the skin. Visceral fat is linked to increased heart attack risk because it is metabolized by the liver into the type of cholesterol that circulates in the blood and contributes to the buildup of arterial plaque.
Building more lean muscle mass in proportion to fat boosts the body’s metabolic rate because muscle is active tissue that consumes more calories than inactive stored fat. Abdominal fat can be reduced both by limiting the amount of saturated fats in the diet and by engaging in regular physical exercise, particularly weight training.
While the ability to reduce abdominal fat alone makes weight training is an important part of physical exercise, there are more benefits to weight training as well. Beyond a reduction in abdominal fat, additional benefits of weight training include improved glucose control, enhanced state of mind, reduced risk of bone fractures, relief from arthritis pain, improved sleep, and improved heart health.
In a study cited by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), just 16 weeks of strength training by Hispanic men and women allowed them to experience dramatically improved glucose control that was comparable to results achieved with medication. Regular strength training has also been shown to provide relief from depression similar to results achieved with antidepressant medication.
Weight training reduces the risk of bone fractures by reducing the risk of falls and by reducing age-related decreases in bone density. When weight training exercises are done properly throughout the full range of motion, they increase the increase strength and flexibility of muscles and joints and help improve overall balance, which in turn decrease the likelihood of falls which can lead to broken bones. Broken bones can cause fatal complications among the elderly. Besides reducing the risk of fractures, adding strength training to an exercise plan is considered to be one of the best ways overall to increase bone density, which is an important consideration for post-menopausal women who can lose up to two percent of their total bone mass each year.
Not only has strength training been shown to be as effective in easing the pain of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis as medication, but increasing muscle strength can improve the clinical signs of disease and decrease disease-related disability as well. according to the CDC, regular exercise of any type corresponds to improvements in the quality of sleep, including sleeping more soundly, sleeping for a longer period of time, and waking less often during the night. Studies have shown that the sleep benefits obtained from weight training are comparable to treatment with medication.
Not only does weight training improve muscle strength, but it improves joint flexibility and aerobic capacity as well. The American Heart Association recommends strength training as a form of therapy for patients in cardiac rehabilitation programs because heart disease risk is lower when the body is leaner.
Including weight training as part of a physical exercise routine brings more benefits than simply reducing abdominal fat. Experts observe that adding weight training to an exercise program can not only increase a person’s ability to perform activities of daily living, but increases their overall quality of life as well.
By Lane Therrell