Why Strength is a Priority

I believe that strength development should be a lifetime pursuit for everybody. This isn’t to say that everybody should be a competitive strongman, weightlifter or powerlifter. Rather, I suggest that consistent, long term strength training be a part of everyone’s life.

It doesn’t matter where you start or where you ultimately finish, as long as your finish line makes you a better person. Whether you can’t do one pushup or are a former athlete, including resistance training as part of your everyday life will benefit your body in countless ways.

Courtesy of: Victor Freitas

This opinion is not only shared by myself and countless other strength enthusiasts, but there are scientifically proven reasons why developing strength is good for you. The purpose of this post is to highlight some research and studies that should encourage people to become stronger as a cornerstone for a healthier body and mind, instead of a pursuit relegated to intimidating people at the gym.

Lower fat levels

I delve deeper into my post about here, which explains why increased muscle mass leads to an increase in calories burned. This long term effect is coupled with the more immediate effect of “Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption” (EPOC), which essentially refers to the increased caloric expenditure in the 24 hours after you’ve finished lifting the last weight.

Improved cardiovascular health

Often thought of as a cardio exercise activity, there are studies that show an improvement in all heart health markers in those who engage in strength training over those that don’t participate in resistance training.

Improved Blood Sugar Level

Due to the anabolic & catabolic effects of muscle building, the body will see an improvement in insulin response for those who increase muscle mass.

Reduce Cancer Risk

This is mainly attributed to lower visceral fat levels in the body, which are associated with a decreased risk of certain cancers. Another benefit of strength training when cancer is involved, relates to cancer treatment’s negative effects on muscle mass. With the theory suggesting that if you start with a higher level of muscle mass, the inevitable loss of muscle mass due to intensive treatments, should mean you have a bigger buffer of muscle to lose.

Lowered Risk of Injury

Generally, an increase in muscle mass will result in more coordination and strength in everyday life. Loading the body with weight not only strengthens muscles, but also strengthens the tendons & bone density over the long term. Strengthening the ligaments can help with injury prevention from minor accidents.

Courtesy of: Victor Freitas

Osteoporosis Prevention & Management

Not only will you experience an increase in muscle size and tendon strength, but the repeated bout effect of weight loading on the body also increases bone mineral density, which, if the process is started early can help prevent and manage osteoporosis as a person ages.

A combination of age-related changes, inactivity, and inadequate nutrition conspire to gradually steal bone mass, at the rate of 1% per year after age 40. As bones grow more fragile and susceptible to fracture, they are more likely to break after even a minor fall or a far less obvious stress, such as bending over to tie a shoelace.

Harvard Health

Improved Mental Health

Similar to running, strength training also releases endorphins into the body. A 2014 study showed that sub 70% 1RM (70% of a weight for one rep maximum effort) training can help treat anxiety. Another study showed a positive connection with adults showing cognitive decline, when compared with those who just stretch.

In this meta-analysis of 33 clinical trials including 1877 participants, resistance exercise training was associated with a significant reduction in depressive symptoms.

Association of Efficacy of Resistance Exercise Training With Depressive Symptoms

Improved body image, boosts confidence & self esteem.

Some may call this superficial and narcissistic, but everyone likes to be proud of how they look. Building muscle mass is a great way to improve one’s appearance. Not everyone will look like the hulk or she-hulk, that takes decades of training and a lot of drugs. But by decreasing bodyfat levels and increasing muscle size, will help boost self image and self confidence.

At a deeper level, the process of getting stronger will boost self confidence. Each time you set a new personal record and lift a heavier weight than last week, you’re doing something you’ve never done before. You’ve pushed yourself to accomplish a task that has exceeded your limits and expanded your capabilities. When you start recognizing that you can build the body to do things it hasn’t done before, you start to realize you’re capable of achieving things else where in your life you hadn’t thought possible.

Strength building also serves to improve the mind-body connection. As you squat, bench or deadlift you start to get a sense of how your body operates and moves. As you self critique your form or have somebody else analyze your form, you learn to feel how each part of the body is moving. You also learn to move your muscles in a specific pattern whilst under a heavy load.

I would also argue that strength training has meditative effects. Your focus should be in the moment. It’s hard to worry about what’s happening this weekend at the in-laws when you have 500lbs on your back. Living in the moment, gives you some mental space to reduce anxiety and remove worry at that moment. For the hour or two that you are training, is an hour or two that is dedicated purely to your own growth and self development.

Courtesy of: Jesper Aggergaard

Longer Lifespan

There are a lot of studies that point out the health benefits of regular exercise and reductions in all cause mortality/morbidity. I want to point out a study that show the benefits of strength training in particular.

A 2015 study found correlation between grip strength and longevity.

Over a median follow-up of four years, low grip strength was associated with all-cause mortality, cardiovascular mortality, non-cardiovascular mortality, myocardial infarction, and stroke. Low grip strength was a stronger predictor of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality than systolic blood pressure.

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(14)62349-7/fulltext

Conclusion

With all the evidence pointing to strength training being so beneficial to the human body, it’s clear that a defined strength training regiment should be part of everybody’s schedule. Whether that involves you doing your first pushup or leads to you squatting 3x your bodyweight, this path of strength leads to beneficial outcomes to the human body.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

Old Chinese Proverb

It’s never a bad time to get started developing your strength. You don’t have to know everything before you get moving, there is not enough time to learn everything about optimal health and performance. Think of building the plane as you fly the plane, the most important part is that you get the motions started, as this will be the biggest hurdle you will face. It takes a lot of force to get a freight train moving, but once the wheels are in motion, it takes a lot of force to stop it.

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

John F. Kennedy

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