Strength training does a body good—and we're talking beyond sculpting sexy muscles. Yet less than one-quarter of adults over 45 meet the muscle-strengthening recommendations set by the Department of Health and Human Services, a recent study found. What gives? Seriously, just squeezing in two strength-training sessions per week can lead to host of good-for-you benefits. Not convinced? Read on.
It revs your metabolism
Pumping iron doesn’t just torch calories in the moment, it continues long after that last bicep curl. In fact, in a Southern Illinois University study, researchers found that exercisers who did a 15-minute resistance routine burned 100 extra calories a day for three days afterward. And building muscle will help you burn more calories in general: each pound of muscle burns 7 to 10 calories, versus 2 or 3 calories for a pound of fat.
It may boost your memory
Can’t remember where you put those darn car keys? A pair of dumbbells might help with that, according to researchers at the University of British Columbia. Older women who strength-trained twice a week for six months not only had a better memory compared to those who stuck to cardio, but better attention spans, and higher-order brain functions like conflict resolution, too. New research suggests that lifting weights can help in the short term, too: A team from the Georgia Institute of Technology found that people who used a leg extension machine for 20 minutes performed 10% better on a memory task two days later compared to people who didn't exercise.
It can strengthen bones
As we age, not only do we lose bone mass, but also our bones become thinner and weaker, making them more susceptible to breaks, especially for post-menopausal women. Doing weight-bearing activities that put stress on your bones—like hoisting kettlebells—forces them to make new cells, which builds bone density, according to Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise.
It may help keep the weight off
In a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, twice as many people who did regular strength training lost weight and kept it off compared to people who didn't. What’s more: Women who strength-train have lower levels of intra-abdominal fat, the deep, visceral kind that's so hard to get rid of and is dangerous for your long-term health.
Now that you know WHY you need to step into the weight room, here are a few functional, compound moves from Josh Newman, co-founder of CrossFit NYC: The Black Box to get you started. The best part: They work multiple muscles at the same time, so you won’t need to spend all day in the gym.
Do 10 reps of each 2-3 times a week.
Why it's key: You can perform total-body moves that work upper and lower body simultaneously.
Try this move: OVERHEAD PRESS
Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand, elbows bent by sides, weights just above shoulders (A). Press arms overhead (B); return to start.
Why it's key: Its design challenges your stability.
Try this move: KETTLEBELL SWING
Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, gripping kettlebell handle with both hands. Squat as you swing kettlebell between legs and slightly behind you (A). Driving from hips, swing the kettlebell in an arc to shoulder level (B). Return to start.
Why it's key: It's ideal for performing dynamic actions.
Try this move: WALL BALL
Stand facing a wall a couple of feet away, holding ball at chest level, feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Squat (A); as you rise to standing, extend arms and toss ball up against wall (B). Catch ball and immediately drop back into squat position.