For most of the 20th century, scientists and doctors believed that aerobic activity was the key to health and longevity, while weight training was purely for vanity. That narrative is beginning to change.
Sure, aerobic activity is great for your health. It helps you stay at a healthy weight, improves heart and lung health, and improves mental wellbeing. Jogging, using a stair climber, vigorous walking, and cycling all count as aerobic activity (also known as endurance training).
Throughout the 20th century, aerobic exercise was studied extensively, and it proved time and again to be beneficial. However, weight training research only began to take off more recently. It shows that muscle mass may be one of the key components to living a healthy lifestyle.
First, consider the quality of life. If you’re more muscular and stronger, you’re more independent. You can carry more groceries and for longer distances, haul furniture around, and pick up your kids or pets. Elderly people who lift weights have better balance and are less likely to fall, which reduces their chance of bone fractures and infections.
As you age, it becomes harder and harder to build and maintain muscle. Most people lose muscle in their 50s and 60s, but those who don’t exercise in their 20s and 30s are at a significant disadvantage as they age.
A study published in the Annals of Medicine in 2018 explains that people with less muscle mass tend to have higher surgical and post-surgical complications, take longer to heal and leave hospitals, have a lower physical function and lower quality of life, and generally don’t live as long as more muscular counterparts.
Another study, published in Clinical Nutrition, looked at the healthcare costs of sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass due to aging). The researchers concluded that health problems caused by the loss of muscle mass alone will contribute to rising healthcare costs in the future as the aging population increases.
Organizations like the American Heart Association and American College of Sports Medicine now recognize that strength training is as important for your health as an aerobic activity. Lifting weights can help prevent diseases like diabetes, heart disease, improve the quality of life for cancer patients, and help with a myriad of other conditions. The positive effects of lifting weights have become too powerful to ignore.