Recent evidence suggests muscle-strengthening exercise is very beneficial to our health. In our study, published today, we argue muscle-strengthening exercise deserves to be considered just as important as aerobic exercise.

And the good news is strength training can be done by anyone, anywhere — and you don’t need fancy equipment.

muscle-strengthening is just as important as cardio

Muscle-strengthening exercise is also known as strength, weight or resistance training, or simply “lifting weights”. It includes the use of weight machines, exercise bands, hand-held weights, or our own body weight (such as push-ups, sit-ups or planking). It’s typically performed at fitness centres and gyms, but can also be done at home.

More than 30 years of clinical research has shown that muscle-strengthening exercise increases muscle massstrength and bone mineral density. It improves our body’s capacity to clear sugar and fat from the bloodstream, and improves our ability to perform everyday activities such as walking up stairs or getting in and out of a chair. It can also reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Compared with aerobic exercise like jogging, clinical studies show that muscle-strengthening exercise has greater effects on age-related diseases such as sarcopenia (muscle wasting), cognitive decline and physical function.

This is particularly significant considering we have an ageing population in Australia. Declines in muscle mass and cognitive function are predicted to be among the key 21st-century health challenges.

Most of us don’t even lift — but we should

While the health benefits of muscle-strengthening exercise are clear, the reality is most adults don’t do it, or don’t do it enough. Data from multiple countries show only 10-30% of adults meet the muscle-strengthening exercise guidelines of two or more days per week. Australian adults reported among the lowest levels of strength training in the world.

Here’s how to get started

Unlike most aerobic exercise, strength training can be done at home. It can also be done without extensive equipment, using our own body weight. This makes it a great form of exercise during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many people are confined to their homes or otherwise restriced in where they can go.

If you are currently doing no muscle-strengthening exercise, getting started, even a little bit, will likely have immediate health benefits. Guidelines recommend exercising all major muscle groups at least twice a week: legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders and arms. This could include bodyweight exercises like push-ups, squats or lunges, or using resistance bands or hand-held weights.

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