Proper exercise not only helps weight management, but also with blood sugar, mental health and more.

You are probably aware that approximately 70 percent of American adults are overweight or obese. However, you may not know that almost 70 percent of our adult population are presently attempting to lose weight through dieting. It would therefore appear that dieting alone is not an effective weight loss strategy, and research clearly supports this observation by concluding that dieters who maintain weight loss are rare exceptions.

Weight management

The problem with dieting is that it results in both fat loss, which is desirable, and muscle loss, which is undesirable. Muscles are the engines of the body, so muscle loss is always accompanied by metabolic rate reduction, which invariably leads to fat regain. So what is the solution? Strength training. Dieters who do 20 minutes of resistance exercise (weights, pushups, pull-ups, etc.) twice a week concurrently lose fat and gain muscle. Our weight loss studies have demonstrated that dieters who perform basic resistance exercises lose about 8 pounds of fat and add about 2 pounds of muscle over a 10-week training period. Therefore, people who want to attain and maintain a desirable body weight should follow a sensible diet plan and perform regular strength training.

Body composition

What about people who weigh the same at age 50 as they did at age 20? While this is certainly more desirable than gaining unwanted weight, it typically represents unfavorable changes in body composition. On average, adults lose about 6 pounds of muscle each decade unless they perform resistance exercise. Consequently, 50-year-olds who have maintained their youthful body weight actually have about 18 pounds less muscle and 18 pounds more fat, for a 36-pound change in their body composition, physical function and personal appearance. They should do reasonable resistance exercise to rebuild their muscles, recharge their metabolism and reduce their body fat.

Resting metabolism

Muscle is directly related to metabolism, as strength-trained muscles use 50 percent more calories at rest than non-strength-trained muscles. In fact, the muscle remodeling that occurs after resistance exercise raises resting metabolic rate by 5 – 9 percent for three full days following the workout. That represents more than 100 additional calories burned every day at rest for people who strength train twice a week (not including the calories used during exercise sessions).

Bone density

Muscle loss is associated with bone loss, which occurs at the rate of 1 – 3 percent per year in both middle-aged and older adults. Fortunately, resistance exercise has been shown to reverse the process of osteoporosis and actually increase bone density in women and men who strength train on a regular basis. In our nine- month study, the group that performed resistance exercise, along with supplemental protein, calcium, and vitamin D, increased their bone density by 1 percent, whereas the control group decreased their bone density by 1 percent.

Blood sugar

The serious problem of overweight/obesity is associated with the serious disease state
of Type 2 diabetes, which is predicted to affect one out of every three Americans by mid- century. Because muscle loss and fat gain increase the risk for Type 2 diabetes, strength training is recommended for both the prevention and management of this prevalent health issue. Resistance exercise is effective for moving sugar from the blood to the muscles, which serve as the body’s major storehouses for glycogen. The positive effects of strength training on blood sugar regulation are so well documented that the American Diabetes Association recommends people with prediabetes and diabetes perform regular resistance exercise at a high training intensity.

Cardiovascular disease

The major risk factors for cardiovascular disease are high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol, which are experienced by 35 – 45 percent of American adults, respectively. Contrary to popular misconceptions, properly performed resistance exercise results in reduced resting blood pressure. Our research study with more than 1,600 participants revealed almost 5 mmHg reduction in systolic blood pressure and more than 2 mmHg reduction in diastolic blood pressure following just 10 weeks of basic strength training. Likewise, resistance exercise has a beneficial effect on blood lipid pro les. Research shows that resistance exercise may decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol by more than 20 percent and increase HDL (good) cholesterol by more than 20 percent.

Mental health

Research has demonstrated positive changes in mental and emotional health from participation in standard strength training programs. Our studies have shown significant improvements in physical self-concept, total mood disturbance, depression, fatigue, positive engagement, revitalization, tranquility and tension after 10 weeks of regular resistance exercise.

People who experience physical discomfort understand that pain has a negative influence on mental and emotional well-being. It is therefore good to know that resistance exercise has been shown to reduce low back pain, decrease arthritic discomfort and ease symptoms of fibromyalgia.


Although strength training is an essential component of sports conditioning programs, it is an equally important activity for men and women of all ages to achieve better health and fitness.

Resistance exercise is effective for: (1) attaining desirable body weight, (2) maintaining favorable body composition, (3) recharging resting metabolic rate, (4) increasing bone density, (5) regulating blood sugar levels, (6) reducing resting blood pressure, (7) improving blood lipid pro les, and (8) enhancing mental/ emotional health. These strength training benefits, and many others, may be experience by performing 20 – 30 minutes of appropriately designed and properly executed resistance exercise twice a week.

Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is the Chair of the Exercise Science Program and Director of the Fitness Research Program at Quincy College in Quincy, MA. Dr. Westcott has written 28 textbooks and books on sensible strength training including the third edition of Building Strength and Stamina.