Social media might have you believe that the biggest benefit of strength training is ‘grammable glutes—but pumping iron does far more than build a booty. In fact, strength training has proven to be one of the best practices you can implement for better physical and mental health. Still not sold? Take a peek at this list of impressive research-backed benefits of strength training. We’re confident it will convince you to hit your local weight room (or finally see that garage gym through).
1. Bigger, Stronger Muscles
The most obvious benefit of lifting weights? Increased strength, which will improve nearly every facet of your life by making daily movements easier and safer, says certified strength and conditioning coach Sharon Gam, Ph.D., C.S.C.S.
That means everything from holding your kids and lifting packages off the front stoop, to carting your groceries inside and climbing stairs is more doable, shares Jake Harcoff, M.S., C.S.C.S., C.I.S.S.N., head coach and owner of AIM Athletic. While that might not sound like a big deal in your younger years, it means more freedom as you age.
In fact, increased muscle mass—especially in your midsection—increases stability and body control, decreasing your likelihood of falling and injuring yourself, which is a major concern for older populations, says Game. Case in point: “Research has found that fall risk in older women was cut in half after just six months of strength training,” she explains.
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How quickly you’re able to pack on muscle depends on a variety of factors, including age, current fitness level, workout regime, lifestyle factors, and more. But, according to one study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, it takes less than two months of four-days-per-week training to see strength gains.
2. Easier Weight Loss
Not everyone who picks up weights desires to drop body weight. However, according to Gam, individuals who have been recommended to lose weight by their healthcare provider should consider strength training.
The reason: As you know, strength training helps you put on muscle mass—and muscle is a more metabolically active tissue than fat, meaning it burns more calories throughout the day than fat, explains Gam. “By boosting your metabolism, strength training will help you lose more weight, and continue to lose weight over time,” she says.
In fact, one study published in the journal of Current Sports Medicine Reports found that regular strength training may increase calorie burning at rest by 100 calories or more per day. “That could translate to an extra weight loss of 10 pounds per year,” she notes.
3. Increased Bone Density
Your muscles aren’t the only tissue that strength training thickens. Your muscles are attached to your bones, so when you use your muscles during strength training, they then pull on your bones, explains Gam. “That pulling signals your body to increase the activity of osteoblasts, which are specialized cells that help lay down new bone,” she says. The more often these cells are activated, the stronger and more resilient your bones become over time.
While low bone density is associated with decreased mobility and daily functioning, denser bones are associated with reduced injury risk and increased freedom, Gam notes. This becomes especially important in middle age and beyond, when bone fractures can seriously impact independence and overall health outcomes.
Read More: 5 Nutrients Other Than Calcium That Support Strong Bones
More good news: Strength training can help reduce injuries associated with the condition osteoporosis, which is marked by low bone density and is particularly common amongst middle-aged and older women.
4. Reduced Risk of Disease
In addition to the many benefits you can see and feel pretty quickly, strength training also offers some pretty important long-term payoffs, particularly reduced risk of certain chronic health conditions and cancers.
“Some of the chronic conditions that strength training can help reduce risk of include type 2 diabetes, breast cancer and prostate cancer, COPD, Parkinson’s disease, fibromyalgia, and chronic kidney disease,” says Gam. According to the National Foundation for Cancer Research, strength training does this in part by helping keep hormone levels steady.
Strength training may also help people cope with and survive certain cancer treatments, according to Harcoff. “Cancer treatments are extremely hard on the body, and someone who is going into treatment with a solid base of muscle beforehand is likely to respond and rebound much better than an untrained individual,” he says. Indeed, one 2021 International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity study found a correlation between muscle-strengthening activities and reduced cancer mortality, while another study linked higher levels of muscle mass and increased survival in cancer patients.
5. Boosted Brain Power
Bopping around with a barbell offers brain benefits to all athletes, but the perks are especially promising for people already experiencing cognitive decline. In one 2016 study published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society, researchers found that older women who strength trained twice per week greatly improved their cognitive abilities over the course of six months, while those who only stretched saw dips.
Experts hypothesize that the gains are a result of increased blood flow to the brain. Blood carries oxygen and nutrients with it, so the more of this good stuff the brain gets, the better it can function, Gam explains.
6. Greater Mental Well-being
You won’t get a ‘runner’s high’ from pumping iron, per say, but you may get something more long-lasting.
In one 2018 study published in the journal of JAMA Psychiatry, people with mild depression symptoms who lifted weights twice a week saw a significant improvement in their mental wellbeing, compared to those who did not schedule in strength time. A second 2020 study published in Scientific Reports also linked strength training with reduced symptoms of anxiety.
Read More: 4 Unexpected Ways To Manage Stress Naturally
On their own, regular trips to the weight room probably won’t erase symptoms of anxiety or depression—but, as the researchers in that JAMA Psychiatry study explain, resistance training can bolster treatment for mental health disorders.
7. Improved Cardiovascular Fitness And Heart Health
You’d be forgiven for believing that aerobic exercises are the only kind that improve heart health. According to Gam, people often mistakenly believe that classic cardio exercises like running, biking, and rowing are the only kinds of exercise that improve heart health.
“Strength training can be just as effective for improving heart health as cardio,” she says. Actually, according to research by the American College of Cardiology, strength training may actually be more beneficial for your heart than cardio.
“When you use your muscles, they need fuel,” explains Gam. To get them that fuel, your heart has to pump more blood to your muscles (remember, blood brings oxygen and nutrients). “Your blood vessels contract and dilate to direct the blood to the right places—and when that happens on a regular basis, your whole cardiovascular system gets stronger and more efficient,” Gam says.
The proof? Just one hour of strength work per week may be sufficient for reducing your risk of heart-related ailments, according to one 2018 Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise study.