For years, the gold standard for overall health was thought to be long-form cardio. From running to biking to Jazzercise, your best bet was to increase your heart rate for an hour or more. Or so we thought.
Many people still enjoy these forms of exercise, perhaps for the meditative quality of a long run or the challenge of participating in an ultra race. Believe me, I’m not one to knock any type of exercise. But the more we learn about the short- and long-term effects of specific types of exercise on the body, the more I’m able to confidently recommend pumping “high dose” iron to my patients.
8 reasons why I prescribe high dose iron to my patients:
- Better mood. Exercise of all kinds has always been associated with positive effects on mental health. More recently, studies are popping up that examine strength training in particular, as opposed to cardio or yoga. Lifting heavy things has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, as well as increase cognitive function. The fun part? Subjects seem to perceive the benefits of lifting weights more quickly than other exercises.
- Cognitive function. One of the most profound effects of resistance training is the improvement in focus and memory in the part of our brains that control “executive function.” This adds to evidence that lifting weights strengthens the brain as well as the body!
- Pain reduction. It may seem counterintuitive, but strength training actually reduces pain in most individuals. Lifting heavy things has been shown to be effective in the reduction of low back pain and may ease the discomfort associated with arthritis. One study even found a substantial reduction in pain for fibromyalgia patients.
- Fat burning. Strength training gives you more bang for your buck, i.e. you can burn more fat and increase lean body mass in shorter periods of time. Increased muscle mass also helps to speed metabolism, which can help decrease fat storage over time.
- Blood sugar regulation. Strength training has been shown to improve glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity, which improves hormone balance, stress response, and cognitive function.
- Decreases risk of osteoporosis. Studies show that strength training is a highly effective means to preserving bone density, while at the same time improving muscle mass, strength, and balance. This is a game changer as we age.
- Muscle mass: use it or lose it. You begin to delete muscle cells around age 40, with inactive adults losing 3-8% of muscle mass per decade, along with a reduction in metabolic rate and fat accumulation. Incorporating strength training, along with fueling your body with complete protein, especially branched chain amino acids (like those found in animal protein) will help to maintain muscle throughout your life. Every move you make today makes a difference for tomorrow. Strength training may seem intimidating if you’ve never done it before. Start from home or hire a trainer to ease you into a routine that works for your body.
- Increased muscle strength makes you feel like a badass! In studies exploring the effects of strength training on body image and mood, pumping iron has major positive effects on how we perceive ourselves, especially in women. In one study, most subjects reported feeling healthier and had an improved body image even though physical results of the study showed a mean weight gain of 1 lb. and a 0.9% increase in body fat.
It’s important to start slow and work your way up to lifting very heavy things, especially if you’re just starting out. I highly recommend working with a qualified exercise professional as you begin your journey.
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Hakkinen A, Hakkinen K, Hannonen P, Alen M. Strength training induced adaptations in neuromuscular function of premenopausal women with fibromyalgia: comparison with healthy women. Ann Rheum Dis. 2001;60:21-26.
Singh NA, Clements KM, Fiatarone MA. A randomized controlled trial of progressive resistance training in depressed elders. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 1997;52:M27-M35.
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Singh NA, et al. A randomized controlled trial of high versus low intensity weight training versus general practitioner care for clinical depression in older adults. J Gerontol Med Sci. 2005;60A:768-776.
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