It’s pretty widely accepted that most of us would gain health benefits from increasing our current levels of activity. Modern life has been designed to be extremely sedentary. We sit in our cars when we travel, we sit for most of the time we are at work, and we even spend a large part of our time at home sitting in chairs or on the couch. According to most estimates, the average person in a modern western society takes between 3,000 to 5,000 steps a day. This equates to about 30-40 minutes of walking a day. If you consider that the average person is awake for 15 hours a day, this means we are sedentary 95% of the time. Our sedentary lifestyles are one of the main causes of our current chronic health epidemic. The bottom line, we NEED to inject more activity into our lives.
One of the challenges surrounding this conundrum is time. Although we are largely sedentary, we are also busy. Contrary to popular belief, most people don’t just sit around doing nothing. We have jobs, kids, school and daily tasks. When picking a form of activity, it makes sense to pick the modality that gives you the most benefits for the least amount of time spent. In other words, you want the most bang for your buck.
When it comes to exercise and activity, there are many different modalities to choose from. You can choose between bike riding, yoga, swimming, running, walking, and resistance training - just to name a few. Although doing any of them is far better than nothing, they are not equal in terms of health benefits per time spent. The best form of exercise in terms of overall long-term health benefits is resistance training. This is especially true when you consider the small amount of time you need to spend doing resistance in order get results. Resistance training produces changes in your body and gives you benefits that are unique when compared to other forms of exercise. Although there are many long-term benefits to resistance training, below are the top 5.
1. Functional Mobility
Functional mobility refers to your ability to move through full ranges of motion with complete control and stability. Its commonly believed that mobility is equivalent to flexibility. Nothing could be further from the truth. Only having flexibility without stability and strength dramatically increases risk of injury. Think of a baby. Babies have amazing flexibility but they lack control and strength. This is why just getting flexible isn’t enough, you also need to have strength and control throughout your fullest ranges of motion.
Although all forms of activity will improve your functional mobility over being sedentary, resistance training stands head and shoulders above them all. Most activities are limited and involve repeating similar movements over and over again. Example; walking involves the legs in a very specific way and neglects the upper body and the core. It also is limited to forward movement with little twisting, bending over, rowing, pressing, backwards movement and squatting (just to name a few). All forms of exercise (besides resistance training) have this problem.
Proper resistance training involves full ranges of motion with resistance. You are encouraged to move in all kinds of different ways. When applied appropriately you get stronger AND more flexible. I can list hundreds of different exercises that can be used in a resistance training routine, each one of them strengthening the body in different ways. This results in a body that can move more freely with stability.
2. Builds Muscle
This one is obvious. Most people know that resistance training is the best way to build muscle. The secret lies in how its done. When you apply resistance training you are literally training to get stronger EVERY time you work out. When you do other forms of exercise, your body does get stronger at first, but once you have reached the amount of strength needed to perform your activity the body stops trying to get stronger. With resistance training, as soon as an exercise gets easy, you add more weight. This constant strength challenge builds muscle over and over again.
Maximizing your muscle mass appropriately (and naturally) is one of the best protections you can have against chronic disease and injury. There are even studies that show that simple strength tests can reliably predict all-cause mortality. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5987902/
3. Hormone Optimization
Although all activity will increase growth hormone levels in both men and women, only one form reliably raises testosterone in men and balances out estrogen in women. Resistance training applied properly sends a signal to the body that says “build muscle and strength” more so than other forms of exercise. In order to build muscle your body needs to have youthful hormone levels. This means higher testosterone levels in men and more balanced hormone levels in women. https://www.healthline.com/health/does-working-out-increase-testosterone
4. Strengthens Bones
Osteopenia affects almost 20 million Americans. This is a loss of bone mass and strength and, often times leads to the degenerative disorder osteoporosis.
Resistance training doesn’t just build muscles, it also builds bones.
Bigger, stronger muscles need stronger bones. Studies show that the bone-building effects of resistance training are in a league of their own. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9927006
Due to the nature of resistance training, the bone-building effects of resistance training affect the whole body whereas other forms of exercise like running may only largely positively impact the lower exterminates.
5. Faster metabolism
Probably my favorite benefit of resistance training is its remarkable ability to speed up your metabolism. As we become more and more sedentary, food is also becoming more and more convenient and tasty. Over-consumption of food is the main cause of the obesity. Although this is an oversimplification, too many carbs, fats or sugar aren’t nearly as much of a problem when calories are low. On the flip side, the healthiest diet on the planet is unhealthy if you simply consume too much. Due to the muscle building and strength building signaling of resistance training, your body prioritizes muscle and strength which results in a higher calorie burn at rest. This means your body burns more calories ALL THE TIME.
Other forms of exercise often have a negative effect on your metabolism. Cardiovascular activity has some great health benefits, but it sends a signal to the body that says “I need more endurance and I need to become efficient with calorie burn.” Cardio does burn a lot of calories, but this is only true WHILE YOU DO IT. When you stop, the calorie burn slows way down. As your body gets better at cardio it pairs muscle down (you don’t need much muscle for endurance) to become a more “efficient machine.” Look at a picture of a long-distance runner, skinny with little muscle. Compare this to a picture of a sprinter (sprinting is much closer to resistance training due to its explosive and short interval nature) and you can see a massive difference.
Bonus: It doesn’t take as much time.
A good resistance training program for the vast majority of people would be about 2-3 days a week for 45-60 minutes. For that amount of time spent, you would gain a significant amount of all of the benefits I listed above and more. This simply is not true of other forms of exercise, which lend minimal results unless done every single day.
When you combine the fact that you don’t need to a lot of time to apply it and that it has been proven to give some of the best long-term benefits, resistance training should be the form of exercise you choose if you can only choose one.