The Health Benefits of Weight Training


For years, prudent observers of sensible weight trainees witnessed certain healthy characteristics demonstrated by many of the participants. Of course, the stereotypical image of the pumped up narcissistic body builder or the overblown super heavyweight weight lifter led the laymen into a negative impression of the practice of using weights for anything vaguely healthful.

The situation was compounded by the overwhelming stress of the exercise scientists to study the benefits of cardiovascular/aerobic activities. The medical community picked up on the lead of the producers of exercise information (primarily distance running exercise physiologists) and supported the singularly focused endurance exercise philosophy. Even at this advanced stage of exercise science the benefits of strength training have still been woefully under-studied.

Recently, some very interesting developments have been reported with regard to the utilization of resistance exercise for the purpose of health enhancement. In the first instance, The New England Journal of Medicine recently reported the study of octogenarians who participated in a resistance training regimen. The results of this study indicated that even at the advanced age of 90, subjects showed rapid and significant gains in strength, mobility and agility. Secondarily, strength training programs have become the foundation upon which back rehabilitation and prevention programs have been designed. In addition, many cardiac rehabilitation programs have incorporated upper body strengthening exercises into the standard operating procedures.

Most recently, the treatment protocol of osteoporosis has embraced the incorporation of resistance exercise. Perhaps a brief review of this condition is in order. Simply described, osteoporosis is a condition by which the bones lose their density and elasticity due to an inability to reabsorb calcium. This commonly occurs in post-menopausal women and elderly men.

If it is understood that bones are living tissues not merely some "human two-by-fours" upon which the body is draped, then it is easier to understand that bones are responsive to stimulation and stress. In this specific instance the stimulation of resistance exercise works like this:

1.    Muscles contract against the resistance (weight).

2.    The muscles are attached to the bones.

3.    The bones are stressed as well as the muscles and both tissues respond by strengthening.

In the case of the bones, this strengthening process includes the stimulation of the bones to reabsorb calcium. Simply stated, even if the diet is adequate with regard to calcium intake and if there is insufficient stimulation to absorb this calcium, the bones may simply waste that potential. Resistance exercise appears to be the mechanism by which calcium resistant bones may be coerced to obtain or at least retain adequate calcium thereby reducing the predisposition towards osteoporosis.

It must be noted that each skeletal segment, i.e. lower leg, upper leg, trunk, upper arm, lower arm, etc. must be stimulated by some specific resistance exercise. In other words, all of the major muscle groups in the body (which are coincidentally attached to the major bones) should be exposed to weight bearing exercises.

Remember, pumping iron may not only make you look better. It may actually be good for your health.