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eeping Fit

Strength Training Benefits

© Wayne L. Westcott PhD

The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Keeping Fit by Wayne L. Westcott PhD. View all columns in series

Reduced Risk of Osteoporosis
The effects of progressive resistance exercise are similar for muscle tissue and bone tissue. The same training stimulus that increases myoproteins in muscle increases collagen proteins in bone. Researchers have reported significant bone mineral density development in older men (10) and women (11) who participated in standard strength training programs.

Reduced Risk of Type II Diabetes
One of the fastest growing health problems in the United States is diabetes, which presently affects 15 million American adults (2). Type II diabetes begins with a deficient glucose metabolism, which hinders the transfer of glucose from the blood to the muscles. Researches at the University of Maryland found that four months of regular strength training increased glucose uptake by almost 25 percent in the pre-diabetic study subjects (12). Their improved glucose metabolism improved the participants' potential for avoiding type II diabetes.

Reduced Risk of Colon Cancer
Another University of Maryland study examined the effects of strength exercise on the transit time for food to pass through the gastrointestinal system (13). After just three months, the resistance trained subjects showed a 56 percent faster transit speed. This is a significant finding, because faster gastrointestinal transit time is associated with lower risk for colon cancer.

Reduced Rick of Cardiovascular Disease
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and two primary predisposing factors are high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. Contrary to popular misconception, properly performed strength exercise leads to lower resting blood pressure readings (6,14). In a study with almost 800 subjects, resting blood pressure was reduced about 4 mm Hg systolic and 3 mm Hg diastolic after just two months of combined strength and endurance exercise (7).

Likewise, researchers have found favorable effects on blood lipid profiles after several weeks of strength training (15,16). In fact, comparative studies have shown as much improvement in blood lipid profiles resulting from strength training as from endurance exercise.

Reduced Risk of Low Back Pain
As you are probably aware, about 80 percent of all Americans will experience low back pain during their lifetime. Fifteen years of research conducted at the University of Florida Medical School has indicated that the largest percentage of low back problems are related to weak low back muscles. Their studies have featured full-range strength exercise for the lumbar spine muscles, and the majority of their subjects have been pain-free or significantly improved after an average 10 weeks of training (15).

Reduced Risk of Depression
A recent study conducted at Harvard University placed clinically depressed seniors into one of two treatment groups (16). One group received educational counseling, while the other group performed three strength training sessions a week with no other intervention. The seniors who did strength exercise experienced significantly better results, with over 80 percent no longer meeting the criteria for depression after only 10 weeks of training.

Teach to Reach
Most adults and seniors are unfamiliar with strength exercise and uninformed regarding the health/wellness benefits of resistance training. They typically associate strength training with bodybuilders and football players, and see no practical application to their own lives. However, when they understand the many ways in which strength exercise can enhance their personal health, increase their physical fitness, improve their overall appearance and reduce their risk of degenerative diseases, they are more likely to become strength program participants.

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About The Author
Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. He is strength training consultant for numerous national organizations, such as the American Council on Exercise, the American Senior Fitness Association, and the National Youth Sports Safety Foundation, and editorial advisor for many publications, including Prevention, Shape, and......more
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