Today I am taking a look at why muscle-strengthening exercises are so important. I'll look at the health benefits to be gained and the possible options you can try.
Louise Baillie S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3 @ActiveLouise Ask Louise
26 January 2021
What are the benefits of muscle-strengthening activities?
Muscle-strengthening workouts include a whole range of activities, from lifting weights at the gym to push-ups. The benefits offered by this kind of activity are numerous. They tone up the muscles, aid weight loss, improve flexibility and increase mobility, for example.
These benefits are perhaps not too surprising; but there are a few additional positives to be gained from muscle-strengthening workouts that you may not be aware of. These are:
Better pain management
Let's take a closer look at why we may see improvements to these areas.
1. Better sleep
There is exciting evidence to show that muscle-strengthening activities (including the likes of push-ups or the use of a weight machine) can improve sleep quality. In fact, a study published at the end of 2020 found that those who had the poorest sleep quality to begin with saw the biggest benefit from entering a training programme that focused on strength work.1
There are many factors thought to bring about these results. Muscle-strengthening activities may reduce anxiety/depression, for example, thus resulting in better sleep. Strength work also improves mobility and the likes of blood pressure, all of which will go on to have a positive bearing on sleep quality.
What are muscle-strengthening activities?
Weight machines (e.g. Cross trainer, leg press)
2. Better mood
Pushing weights at the gym isn't necessarily something we'd associate with a joyful feeling (unless you really love lifting weights!); but research shows that strength exercises can have a positive effect here.
A recent study has highlighted that strength work (or resistance training as it is sometimes known) could have a positive effect on depressive symptoms. This is interesting, as most existing research has examined how heart-pumping, endorphin boosting, aerobic exercises influence mood, rather than focusing on the effect of strength work.
What's even more notable about this piece of research is that people experienced improvements to their mood, regardless of whether or not they actually made any physical gains to their strength. So, it wasn't always the act of exercising itself that brought about positivity, it was the sense of achievement.2
Other studies have looked at strength exercises in relation to anxiety and, yet again, the results are positive.3
So, why do we see this effect? Well, scientific work to answer this question is on-going. However, it could be to do with the fact that strength training triggers the release of a specific protein called BDNF into a region of the brain called the hippocampus. This part of the brain has many roles, including in mood regulation – there is even evidence to suggest the hippocampus is smaller in people with depression. The release of BDNF triggers the growth of new brain cells here, and therefore we may see some growth in the hippocampus size, as well as improved communication between cells.
This all sounds very 'sciency' but the gist is that strength exercise positively influences mood!
My Self-Care Tip: The best exercises for mood
What kind of exercises bring improvements to mood? Check out my video below for the answers!
3. Better pain management
Another unique benefit of a strength workout is that it may bring about some improvements to pain. This is in certain circumstances, I must add, and you certainly mustn't try to lift anything too strenuous if you are dealing with an injury! However, in cases where a person experiences more general aches and pains, there are thought to be some pain-relieving benefits to be gained from strength-focused activities.
For example, resistance training may ease stiffness and pain by improving muscle strength around a particular joint. As resistance work improves balance and flexibility, it also has the potential to reduce the risk of falls and, therefore, the likelihood of pain or injury in the future.
Another positive to note is that regular strength work may improve bone mineral density by around 1-3%. This is significant, as osteoporosis, which is characterised by weakened bones, is increasingly common, particularly among older adults.