Since I started lifting weights it’s been a constant in my life. It’s hard to describe properly what I get out of it and believe me I’ve tried. Sure, I do like trying to look good, and I love feeling strong, but there’s so much more. Maybe it’s the habit and routine that it provides. It could be the atmosphere in the gym where I’m surrounded by like-minded people. It could possibly be the fact that lifting has provided me with the therapy I needed when times have been tough. Whatever it is, it’s more than just trying to look good with my shirt off.
I love training with other people too. When I teach someone to lift, I get a huge kick out of watching their own journey unfold. At first, it might be about losing weight or looking different, or just wanting to improve their squat. Soon though, I start to see the subtler changes like improved confidence and attitude. Going to the gym stops being for external reasons only. As time goes on, lifting becomes something much more internal. Less how someone looks, and more how someone feels.
While lifting weights can be its own personal journey, there are very real benefits to moving the iron beyond getting jacked. Here are seven.
1# Lifting makes you smarter
It’s not just your biceps that get bigger when you hit the gym. Lifting has a proven track record of very real brain gains.
- Lachman et al showed that lifting improved memory span in a study involving 210 people
- After 24 weeks of weightlifting compared to no weight lifting in a study by Cassilhas at al, the people who lifted significantly improved cognitive function tests
- Lifting was shown to improve memory again in a study by Busse et al
Lastly looking at the literature as a whole, a review of exercise on cognition showed that weight training and cardio beats cardio alone for improvements in cognitive function. If you’re purely a cardio bunny, throwing some weights around a couple of times a week at least might just make that Rubik’s cube easier to handle.
2# Lifting improves your self-esteem
- When comparing strength training to flexibility training in cardiac rehabilitation patients, strength training is shown to have a much greater increase in emotional health.
- A study by Tsutsumi et al high or moderate intensity strength training was shown to positively affect peoples mood when compared to no strength training.
- Taspinar et al showed that resistance training improved body image and self-esteem.
- Lifting also improves self-esteem and psychological benefits in young people.
3# Lifting helps you sleep
Lifting increases the amount we sleep by a small amount, but the real benefit is with sleep quality. Training with weights improves
- How well people sleep
- Decreases the amount people wake up during the night
- Makes you feel better during the day
4# Lifting helps with depressive symptoms
Anecdotally, many people talk about training as being their “therapy” when going through difficult times, but as always, what is known intuitively is often reflected in the literature.
Depression or depressive symptoms are an extremely complex subject that can’t really be glossed over in a few sentences. That said, a review of the literature of lifting and its effects on depressive symptoms shows that strength training is a legitimate alternative therapy for people regardless of their age or gender.
An interesting point in the research is that people with greater depressive symptoms seem to benefit more. There might be more of an effect on lifting in clinical depression than there is in mild, subclinical kinds.
5# Lifting keeps you young
If you were 89 years old, stuck in a nursing home, and couldn’t get out of you chair; you might not think that pumping iron would be the answers to your prayers. You’d be wrong. After 14 weeks of doing one set of 6 exercises twice a week, the OAP’s increased their strength by 60% and made 1.7kg of solid gains.
- in a study by Holviala et al, elderly people improved both maximal and explosive strength after 21 weeks of heavy lifting.
- Kalapotharakos et al showed that 60 to 74-year-olds can dramatically improve the time it takes to get out of chairs, walking speed, and leg strength after lifting weights.
I get that you’re not concerned about what it’s like to be 80 years old right now, but that’s not my point. Waiting until you can’t get out of a chair to start lifting is not the best use of your time. Start now, keep it up, and reap the benefits as you age.
6# Lifting improves anxiety
Currently, around 22% of people over the age of 13 suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder per year. According to a review by Strickland et al:
- lifting can help anxiety acutely, by having an effect after just one training session
- However, the benefits of long-term training have a far greater effect
Lifting weights at least a couple of times a week long term is what works best.
7# Lifting stops you dying
Lifting weights is associated with a decrease in all-cause mortality. In English, that means that lifting seems to make you live longer.
According to a recent review by Stanismatis et al, resistance training was linked to 31% reduction in cancer mortality.
- Lifting has similar effects on a reduction in heart disease as 2.5 hours of low-intensity cardio a week
- Lifting has been shown to increase arterial stiffness, a good thing where heart disease is concerned
- Hitting the weights also reduces blood pressure in the heart
Lifting weights for strength and aesthetics is awesome, but don’t overlook the other benefits of resistance training. Making lifting a lifestyle won’t only affect how you look and perform, it’ll also change how you feel, sleep, and think. Make lifting a habit, and good things will follow.
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