16 Benefits of exercise and strength training

Lack of exercise is a major cause of chronic diseases, it can be used as a primary prevention against 35 chronic conditions (35), and serve as therapy in 26 chronic diseases (36).

Strength training is significantly associated with decreased overall mortality (37). Improved physical capacity, muscle strength and functional ability can be achieved in response to resistance (weight) training (38,39) and resistance training combined with aerobic exercise (40-46).
A big study (400.000) showed that people who exercise an average of 92 minutes a week, or 15 minutes a day, were 14% less likely to die for any reason (1). The risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer can be reduced by 15 minutes or more of exercise each day. Four of the most common reasons for not getting those 15 minutes are lack of time, lack of energy, lack of motivation, and lack of information (even possibly misinformation).

Pain and diseases

Strength training can improve pain management, disability and quality of life (2). The same study show that cardiovascular exercises alone improve body composition by reducing body fat levels and improve flexibility.

Strength training can also reduce neck pain (3). Three 20-minute sessions per week, focusing on exercises to target the trapezius muscles, led to an incredible 79% reduction in pain symptoms, and 29% strength.

Strength training is useful for increasing muscle strength in Parkinson disease and to a lesser extent multiple sclerosis (47).

Bone density

Another benefit of strength training is increase in bone density and a lower risk of osteoporosis. As the skeleton adapts to forces applied to it, when a certain threshold is reached, changes in cellular activity occur and increase the strength of the bone.

This is known as the Piezoelectric effect: mechanical stress exerted by a tendon on a bone generates a voltage. Due to stress, a charge is then released from within the collagen fibers and attracts the oppositely charged osteoblasts which are cells responsible for new bone formation. Osteoblasts deposit minerals at the site resulting in a localized increase in bone density.

As a result of lack of physical activity there’s a reduction of bone density, however regular exercise will reverse this decline.

High intensity exercise (70-80% RM) promotes greater bone formation than moderate intensity (40-60%RM), in elderly population. If we cease regular exercise most improvements in muscle mass and bone density will be lost. This is known as the reversibility principle.

A meta-analysis indicated that exercise prevented or reversed approximately 1% bone loss per year in adult and older adult women (4). A more recent review revealed that resistance training increased bone mineral density (BMD) by 1-3% in premenopausal and postmenopausal women (5). Another study, a 2-year study (6) indicated that resistance training resulted in a 3.2% improvement in BMD.

An important note is that BMD change is related to different responses in different bones; the effects of resistance training are site specific. A review showed that resistance training is positively associated with high BMD (7). Resistance training is more effective aerobic and weight bearing exercise for increasing bone density.

Tendons and ligaments

Strength training also strengthen tendons and ligaments. This helps stabilizing the joints with shock-absorbing benefits, and reduces the stress in the articular cartilage on the end of the bones.
Inflammation, diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome

Exercise is even anti-inflammatory for chronic diseases as rheumatic diseases (8). Skeletal muscle is a secretory organ and releases anti-inflammatory proteins called myokines. These myokines then circulate in the bloodstream and communicate with other organs.

Strength training enhances control of blood sugar levels, and positively affects these conditions (9). Progressive strength training program is shown to lower the value of glycosylated hemoglobin – a key measure of the average blood glucose concentration over prolong period.

In another review article resistance training is recommended in the management of obesity and metabolic disorders (10). Increased resting metabolic rate, improved insulin sensitivity (11,12,13,14), and enhanced sympathetic activity are possible means by which resistance training may decrease intra-abdominal fat stores. 

There’s also improvements in blood lipid profiles resulting from resistance training (15,16,17). A 2009 review suggests resistance training is effective in reducing LDL cholesterol (18). Furthermore, combined resistance training and aerobic activity improves blood lipid profiles better than either exercise performed independently.

Exercise reduces the catecholamine response (19), improve arterial and endothelial function (20,21) and maintain muscle metabolic capacity with ageing (22).

A study published in www.cancer.org (23) showed resistance training twice per week for six months significantly enhanced the quality of life for women treated from breast cancer. Improvements were noted in both physical and psychosocial aspects, concluding that changes in strength and body composition led to greater feeling of empowerment.

Resistance training can significantly reduce anxiety symptoms (24). Anxiety may be linked to depression, negative mood swings, disturbances in sleep patterns, tiredness, even weight fluctuations. At least in four studies resistance training had a positive effect on depression levels in clinically depressed subjects; 18 studies presented positive effects on depression symptoms in healthy adults or adults with medical problems (24).

Mental health and cognition

In aging it appears to be a general decline in cognitive function; in older adults strength training can improve several cognition markers, most notably in memory. Strength training is also positive to self-esteem, in both younger and older population subsets.

In a meta-analysis aerobic exercise combined with resistance training resulted in improvements in cognition in inactive older adults compared with aerobic activity alone (25).

Resistance training and aerobic activity can also improve physical self-concept, total mood disturbance, fatigue, positive engagement, revitalization, tranquility, and tension (26).

Resistance training is associated with reduced depression levels in older adults. After 10 weeks of exercise, more than 80% of depressed elders were no longer clinically depressed (27).

Benefits of strength training in the area of mental health (28, 29, 30, 31):

1. Improved memory.
2. Reduced risk of depression.
3. Less chronic fatigue.
4. Improved sleep quality.
5. Enhanced cognitive ability.
6. Improved self-esteem.


We lose muscle as we age, this is called sarcopenia, which begins after 30 years of age, leading to a loss of 3-5% of muscle mass per decade, with a significant acceleration after 65 years of age. The loss of muscle mass is accompanied with parallel loss of strength. The causes are thought to be a combination of:

1. Decreased hormone levels: growth hormone and mechanogrowth factor (32), testosterone (33), these hormones play a role in protein metabolism within the muscle cells, leading to a decrease in muscle mass;
2. Reduced protein synthesis: impairs the body’s anabolic ability;
3. Motor unit remodeling: change in motor neurons, nerves that initiate movement;
4. Lifestyle change: lower activity levels.

Resistance training has been shown to positively affect all of these factors. For example protein synthesis improve significantly in 2 weeks; there’s also improved efficiency of the motor units (increased muscle fiber recruitment and force production.)

Aging is usually accompanied by a loss of muscle mass, loss of strength, leading to reduced everyday capability. Resistance training delay and actually reverse the aging process.

Circuit (short rest) resistance training can increase mitochondrial density and the oxidative capacity of muscle tissue. With resistance training, there’s a reversal in mitochondrial deterioration that typically occurs with aging. Positive changes were observed in 179 genes associated with age and exercise; resistance training can reverse aging factors in skeletal muscle, by reversing that gene expression (34). 

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The Epidemiology and Physiology of Sedentary Behavior

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Summary of 47 articles with 49.167 words and 1321 references on
Exercise, nutrition and Science


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