The benefits of training are varied and apply to nearly everyone. Finding one form of exercise can be difficult when discussing benefits because there are so many that occur that result in a greater quality of life and functional living.
The answer is in finding an exercise form that improves the widest range of people in cardiovascular health, strength, endurance, flexibility and body composition. While many forms improve on the aforementioned components, research provides compelling evidence that the structure and manipulation of resistance training may be one of the most beneficial forms of exercise for all age groups.
In general, resistance training is noted to improve muscle strength, bone mass, flexibility, dynamic balance, self-confidence, self-efficiency and self-esteem, providing additional benefits in body composition and cardiovascular health.
Among young adults, most are concerned with improving and maintaining cardiovascular health, strength and body composition. Resistance training has shown to make drastic improvements for all of these aspects.
Cardiovascular health is of particular importance to maintain throughout life. Toward that end, much research has focused on aerobic training, but recent studies show that resistance training also provides similar benefits.
Resistance training is also of particular importance in maintaining and improving body composition and in decreasing the effects of the metabolic syndrome. Typically experts recommend endurance training as the most beneficial for fat loss, and indeed it does reduce body fat mass and also creates improvements in insulin sensitivity.
However, muscle mass is associated with a decline in blood glucose disposal capacity, thereby improving muscle mass would improve capacity, suggesting complementary benefits to body composition over endurance training alone, according to a 2009 study reported in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports.
Resistance training also can have profound benefits for older people. As we live longer we increase our likelihood of developing a chronic disease, impairment or disability that results in a reduced quality of life. One of the primary correlated pieces of independent living in the elderly is walking, specifically the kinematic (step length) and kinetic (push-off force) aspects of gait. A decrease in lean muscle mass will perpetuate this problem and lead to an increase risk of falls, and thus the consequence of disability.
However, resistance training will increase muscle mass and endurance, resulting in improvements in gait. It also has been shown to make significant improvements in upper and lower body muscle strength, aerobic endurance, and agility/dynamic balance, all of which are critical to the quality of life among the elderly.
A resistance training program doesn’t have to be a seven-day-a-week ordeal. In fact, strength gains can occur in as little as one or two times a week in beginning exercisers with a goal to progress to three times a week working all major muscle groups. Resistance training can also look different depending on one’s current stage of strength.
Resistance training can be used with bands, body weight, selectable weight and resistance machines or dumbbells. The body doesn’t know what kind of resistance is being applied, but simply that more resistance than normal is being forced on the body. So try a variety of things and find one that works for you and your body will thank you later for it.
Theresa Osborne is the Wellness Program director at the Walla Walla YMCA. She has a master’s in exercise science and National Academy of Sports Medicine certifications as certified personal trainer, corrective exercise specialist and performance enhancement specialist.