When it comes to New Year’s Resolutions, losing weight is always one of the most popular. But like 80 percent of resolutions, it’s also likely to fail. One reason why: Many people focus on dieting as a path to dropping pounds—a strategy that isn’t the easiest to stick to week in and week out (you just get sick of all that deprivation!).
So, in 2021, instead of focusing on cutting calories and dropping pounds, why not switch your focus to adding something into your life: Strength training. Getting stronger comes with lots of important health benefits, only requires a little adjustment to your routine without too much of a time commitment, and, yes, can also help you lose weight. Here’s why it’s so important and how to go about doing it:
You’ll help your heart. One of the biggest benefits of any kind of exercise is the boost you give to your heart health—and this is especially true for resistance training. “The muscular system and cardiovascular system are related—you work both when you’re lifting weights because you need to get oxygen to your muscles,” says Westcott. “Over time, you end up strengthening your heart, so it pumps more blood with each beat.” The result: A lower resting heart rate and blood pressure.
You’ll have stronger bones. Muscles aren’t the only things that get weaker as you age—so do your bones. And that’s something lifting weights can actually reverse. “Many studies show strength training increases bone density better than high-impact activities, like running,” says Westcott. “A year of strength training increases bone density by one percent in post-menopausal women while those who didn’t strength train lost two to three percent of their bone density.”
What’s the connection? “As you contract a muscle during strength training, it pulls on the bones it’s connected to,” says Westcott. “That pulling is a safer and more effective way of strengthening your bones and increasing their density than jumping rope or pounding the pavement with running.”
You’ll slim down while adding muscle mass. Your main motivation for starting to strength train may be to slim down, and that’s okay! The reason there’s such a link between getting stronger and slimming down is that after you turn 30, you start to lose 3 to 8 percent of your total muscle mass every decade—a rate that speeds up even more when you hit 60. “This reduces your resting metabolic rate, which accounts for more than half of the calories you burn in a day,” says Wayne Westcott, PhD, professor of exercise science at Quincy College.
The result: weight gain. But start lifting weights and you can not only avoid that pound creepage but also start to see the scale move in the opposite direction—especially if you combine it with healthy eating. Westcott has done research on how people lose weight with diet (a modest reduction in calories and higher intake of protein) plus cardio compared to diet plus cardio and strength training. He found that when lifting weights was added to the equation, participants lost an average of seven pounds of fat and gained two pounds of muscle in 10 weeks (for the group that didn’t do strength training, 25 percent of the weight they lost was muscle).
This is a win-win for making your clothes fit better. “Muscle has a greater density than fat, so it takes up significantly less space,” says Westcott.
You’ll maintain your weight more easily. Even better than helping with initial weight loss, if that is what you’re looking to achieve, is the fact that strength training helps you maintain your weight.
Westcott checked back in with the participants from the study mentioned above six to nine months after they stopped dieting, and if they continued strength training, they had no significant weight regain. “This is an area where almost every successful diet fails,” says Westcott. “But we found that you actually continue to reduce fat and increase muscle mass even if you stop restricting calories.”
You’ll feel less anxious. Who isn’t feeling a little on edge right now? Strength training can help with that too. A new small study found that eight weeks of resistance training reduced anxiety in college students. Other research shows it can also help reduce your risk of developing depression.
Ready to start experiencing all those benefits yourself? The good news is you don’t need to spend an hour pumping iron every day. In Westcott’s research, participants lifted weights two or three days a week for 20 to 25 minutes.
The key: For each move you do, make sure you keep going until you absolutely can’t do another rep. “You want to make the weight heavy enough that you have to stop after about 10 reps,” says Westcott. If you can keep going, add a few more pounds to whatever you’re lifting.
For inspiration on moves to try, visit these blogs:
- 3 Strength Moves to Improve Your Power and Performance
- 6 Resistance Band Moves that Take Bodyweight Training to the Next Leve
- Get More from Your Strength Workouts
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.