Why Strength is Key to Optimal Health

"strength training" header image with a woman about to lift a barbell

I’ll admit it—I’ve never like strength training!

Oh, I know it’s good for me. And I’ve done it in the past. But I decided I needed to revisit strength training in 2017. So I joined a gym for the first time in my life in January for the sole purpose of getting in two days of strength training.

I’ve since been reminded why it’s so good for us!

Almost 20 years I bought a book that caught my eye: Strong Women Stay Young by Dr. Miriam E. Nelson from Tufts University. After reading it I followed Dr. Nelson’s plan for at-home strength training for a long time. But I eventually quit because…I don’t like strength training!

I figured the running, walking and Pilates I was doing was just going to have to be enough.

But at 52, having had to quit running last summer due to hip stiffness, and seeing other signs of aging (!!), I knew I had to get back into it. After almost 3 months at the gym now, I’ve been reminded of the benefits. Those benefits have been helping me stay motivated (along with having to pay for the gym!).

So you didn’t start strength training 20 years ago? Or you quit like I did? The next best time to start is today!

Here are the top 5 things strength training does for us:

1. Strengthens Our Muscles

“Use it or lose it” is absolutely true when it comes to muscle strength. Weakened muscles shrink and become flabby. Since our muscles support our entire skeletal system, flabby muscles mean flabby support.

Strong muscles mean strong support. This is especially important for a healthy back and for healthy joints.

A physical therapist told me years ago: “The best thing you can do for your back is to have strong stomach muscles.” I recently read something similar about our knees: The best thing for strong knees is strong quad muscles.

2. Revs Up Our Metabolism

Muscle is active tissue and needs calories to fuel it—even when resting. As our muscles are strengthened, they grow and therefore need more fuel. Theoretically, this should help us maintain our weight easier.

Muscle is also more dense than fat and therefore weighs more. In the studies done by Dr. Nelson at Tufts, their participants didn’t lose weight so much as inches.

3. Improves Our Balance

One of the most common injuries we hear about with the elderly is broken bones due to falls. That’s partly true because as inactive people age, their muscles used for balance get weaker.

Strength training strengthens those muscles in our hips, legs and back used for balance. Strong people are less likely to fall.

woman on a stand-up paddleboard on a lake
Strong muscles help us do many of our favorite outdoor activities more successfully—especially those that rely on balance!

4. Increases Our Bone Density

The other reason for broken bones is that as inactive people age, they lose bone density, which causes their bones to become more brittle.

Strength training increases bone density, both strengthening the bones and decreasing the risk of osteoporosis. If there is a fall, there’s less risk of broken bones.

5. Energizes Us

Dr. Nelson’s participants in the strength training study reported a 27% increase in their overall activity during the study. Compare that to the 25% decrease in activity with the control group in the same study.

Being strong makes it easier and more enjoyable to do everything else! And considering physical inactivity is about the worst thing for our bodies, that’s good news.

Our Ultimate Goal: Stewardship

Our ultimate goal isn’t to be thin, or in good shape or strong just for the sake of it, or because we want to look and feel good. Although we do.

It’s not even so we can keep doing the activities we love. Although we want that, too.

Our ultimate goal is to be good stewards of the physical body God’s given us! We want to be able to keep doing what we’re called to do well into old age—not be forced to the sidelines because of feebleness, sickness and weariness.

I forgot to mention that the study participants Dr. Nelson recruited for her strength training study were all postmenopausal women. It’s not too late to begin now!

four women having fun cross country skiing through the snowy woods
Good stewardship of our physical body has many side benefits—like enjoying outdoor activities throughout the year!

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