5 Health Benefits of Weight Lifting Summary

  • 5 Health Benefits of weight lifting include healthy aging, mobility, cognitive function, cancer survivorship, improving bone density, and metabolic health.
  • Lifting lighter loads to volitional failure can still provide significant health benefits, and there is evidence of a lower mortality risk in those who regularly perform resistance training.

Resistance Exercise for Seniors

Muscle disuse with a sedentary lifestyle, illness, or surgery accelerates muscle loss at a rate of ~1% and ~3% loss per year in those older than 60 yr. (McLeod et al., 2016) Therefore, older adults need to preserve muscle mass by performing resistance exercises and increase bone density. Treatment costs associated with loss of muscle mass in the US health system are ~$19 billion per year in direct and indirect costs. Severe falls reduce the quality of life and exacerbate cognitive function declines, which reduces independence.

Resistance training (RT) is often associated solely with muscle hypertrophy (i.e., muscle growth) and gains in muscle strength; however, RT has many health benefits that extend far beyond these common perceptions.

Most people often associate aerobic exercise with healthy aging having the most benefits for improving reducing death. RT involves working against a force to build muscle strength and endurance and has also been proven to offer many health benefits similar to aerobic training (AT). Furthermore, when both forms of exercise are combined, they can yield optimal health outcomes.

This article will discuss a recent article titled “Health Benefits of weight lifting Beyond Building Muscle” by Sidney Abou Sawan, Everson A. Nunes, Changhyun Lim, James McKendry, and Stuart M. Phillips. It discusses the healthy aging and highlights that these benefits extend beyond muscle hypertrophy and the requirement to lift heavy weights.

The Multifaceted Health Benefits of Weight Lifting: 5 Health Benefits of Strength Training

Resistance training (RT) leads to certain changes in our body, known as phenotypic adaptations. These changes are supported by the production of new proteins in the muscles and mitochondria, which help increase muscle size and endurance. (Coffey et al., 2006) However, recent studies suggest that resistance training can do more than just increase muscle size and strength. It can also cause changes in our mitochondria, which are usually associated with aerobic training (AT). (Lim et al., 2019) For instance, when we perform resistance training with lighter weights (around 30% of our maximum capacity) until we’re fatigued, it can increase the number of proteins in our mitochondria and improve our muscles ‘ ability to use oxygen.

Resistance training is not just about building muscle mass or lifting heavy weights. It is crucial in promoting healthy aging, improving bone density, mobility, enhancing cognitive function, supporting cancer survivorship, and managing metabolic health in individuals with obesity and type 2 diabetes. The health benefits of weight lifting go way beyond just building muscle.

As we age, our bodies naturally lose muscle mass and strength, a condition is known as sarcopenia. (Kobayashi, 2013) However, resistance training can counteract this process, promoting healthy aging by maintaining muscle strength and endurance. This helps older adults maintain their independence and improves their quality of life.

One of the major health-related risks of aging is falling and breaking a bone. Researchers have long thought that older adults must perform a resistance training program with heavy weights to reduce fall risk and improve bone density. New research has shown that lower weight RT combined with balance training effectively mitigates fall risk. (Sherrington et al., 2019)

Cognitive Function and Resistance Training

Evidence indicates that increasing physical activity can affect cognitive function in older adults and individuals with mild cognitive impairment. (Coelho-Junior et al., 2022) However, most current research has focused on the effects of aerobic training (AT) on cognition, with less emphasis on RT alone.

Healthy AgingCognitive Function
Cancer Survivorship
Bone Density
Cognitive Function
Cancer Survivorship
Bone Density
The effects of RT on cognition may be mediated by exercise-induced increases in brain-derived neurotrophic factors and cerebral blood flow, which are associated with improved cognition. (Cassilhas et al., 2016)

The effects of RT on cognition may be mediated by exercise-induced increases in brain-derived neurotrophic factors and cerebral blood flow, which are associated with improved cognition. (Cassilhas et al., 2016) Recent meta-analyses have demonstrated positive effects of RT on age-related executive cognitive ability and global cognitive function but not working memory. (Landrigan et al., 2020) Thus, improving cognitive function with RT could positively impact the quality of life in older people.

Resistance Training and Cancer Survivorship

Because age is a risk factor for many cancers, resistance exercise can be beneficial. Physical activity, including resistance training, has been shown to benefit people with cancer significantly. It can improve physical and psychosocial function, fatigue resistance, quality of life, reduce recurrence, and increase survival. Resistance training has promising potential to counteract the adverse side effects of cancer, such as muscle wasting. It can help preserve muscle mass during cancer treatment and is associated with a reduced risk of all-cause mortality in cancer survivors. Thus, exercises improves cancer survivorship and reduces death rates. 

BMI and Cancer

Having a high BMI and being overweight are associated with increased death rates. Paradoxically, a higher body mass index (primarily attributed to an increase in adiposity) in patients with certain cancers reduces mortality compared with cancer patients with low normal body mass index.

This observation may be due to greater muscle mass independent of changes in fat mass. Notwithstanding differences in fat mass, low muscle mass is associated with a higher risk of cancer recurrence, overall and cancer-specific mortality, surgical complications, and cancer treatment-related toxicities. (Caan et al., 2018)

Resistance Training and Cancer

Cancer patients who undergo treatment can experience cachexia and higher chemotherapy-related toxicity, whereas patients who begin therapy with greater muscle mass experience fewer toxicities and better clinical outcomes.

RT does not appreciably affect lean body mass during cancer treatment; however, preserving muscle mass induced by RT is associated with a reduced risk of all-cause mortality in cancer survivors.(Hardee et al., 2014) The health benefits of weight lifting for cognitive function is a rapidly growing field of study.

Resistance Training: A Versatile Tool for Health

Healthy AgingCognitive Function
Cancer Survivorship
Bone Density
RT does not appreciably affect lean body mass during cancer treatment; however, preserving muscle mass induced by RT is associated with a reduced risk of all-cause mortality in cancer survivors.(Hardee et al., 2014)

Resistance training is a versatile tool for healthy aging. It can effectively reduce the risk of falls, improve lipid profiles, and decrease mortality risk in various populations.

Engaging in physical activity while overweight, irrespective of weight loss, is an effective strategy for managing obesity and type II diabetes. (Francisco et al., 2018) Indeed, a recent meta-analysis has shown that RT effectively reduces fat mass in overweight/obese older adults. (Lopez et al., 2022) Thus, RT can induce adaptations to improve metabolic health, including muscle protein remodeling, mitochondrial oxidative capacity, and heightened insulin sensitivity. These data suggest that AT or RT can enhance metabolic health irrespective of increasing muscle mass.

Performing 1–2 sessions per week or the equivalent of 60–120 min·wk. has consistently decreased all-cause mortality, with weak associations for cancer- and cardiovascular disease–related mortality.


In conclusion, the health benefits of weight lifting go beyond muscle hypertrophy. It promotes healthy aging, improves mobility, enhances cognitive function, supports cancer survivorship, and manages metabolic health in individuals with obesity and type 2 diabetes. Moreover, it can reduce the risk of falls, improve lipid profiles, and decrease mortality risk. Therefore, it’s high time we start appreciating the value of resistance training and incorporating it into our regular exercise routine for optimal health outcomes.

It is recommended to perform RT with light-to-moderate relative loads (≥30% but <70% of 1RM) or use only body weight as resistance in older people to improve fitness. Repetitions within a given set should be performed to the point that results in a high degree of effort or relatively close to momentary muscular failure. (Helms et al., 2020)


Abou Sawan, Sidney; Nunes, Everson A.; Lim, Changhyun; McKendry, James; Phillips, Stuart M.. The Health Benefits of Resistance Exercise: Beyond Hypertrophy and Big Weights. Exercise, Sport, and Movement 1(1):e00001, January 2023. | DOI: 10.1249/ESM.0000000000000001

Caan, B. J., Cespedes Feliciano, E. M., & Kroenke, C. H. (2018). The Importance of Body Composition in Explaining the Overweight Paradox in Cancer-Counterpoint. Cancer Res, 78(8), 1906-1912. https://doi.org/10.1158/0008-5472.Can-17-3287

Cassilhas, R. C., Tufik, S., & de Mello, M. T. (2016). Physical exercise, neuroplasticity, spatial learning, and memory. Cell Mol Life Sci, 73(5), 975-983. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00018-015-2102-0

Coelho-Junior, H., Marzetti, E., Calvani, R., Picca, A., Arai, H., & Uchida, M. (2022). Resistance training improves cognitive function in older adults with different cognitive status: a systematic review and Meta-analysis. Aging Ment Health, 26(2), 213-224. https://doi.org/10.1080/13607863.2020.1857691


Coffey, V. G., Zhong, Z., Shield, A., Canny, B. J., Chibalin, A. V., Zierath, J. R., & Hawley, J. A. (2006). Early signaling responses to divergent exercise stimuli in skeletal muscle from well-trained humans. Faseb j, 20(1), 190-192. https://doi.org/10.1096/fj.05-4809fje

Francisco, B. O., Jonatan, R. R., Idoia, L., Carl, J. L., & Steven, N. B. (2018). The Fat but Fit paradox: what we know and don’t know about it. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 52(3), 151. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2016-097400

Hardee, J. P., Porter, R. R., Sui, X., Archer, E., Lee, I. M., Lavie, C. J., & Blair, S. N. (2014). The effect of resistance exercise on all-cause mortality in cancer survivors. Mayo Clin Proc, 89(8), 1108-1115. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2014.03.018

Helms, E. R., Kwan, K., Sousa, C. A., Cronin, J. B., Storey, A. G., & Zourdos, M. C. (2020). Methods for Regulating and Monitoring Resistance Training. J Hum Kinet, 74, 23-42. https://doi.org/10.2478/hukin-2020-0011

Kobayashi, H. (2013). Age-Related Sarcopenia and Amino Acid Nutrition. The Journal of Physical Fitness and Sports Medicine. https://doi.org/10.7600/jpfsm.2.401


Landrigan, J. F., Bell, T., Crowe, M., Clay, O. J., & Mirman, D. (2020). Lifting cognition: a meta-analysis of effects of resistance exercise on cognition. Psychol Res, 84(5), 1167-1183. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-019-01145-x

Lim, C., Kim, H. J., Morton, R. W., Harris, R., Phillips, S. M., Jeong, T. S., & Kim, C. K. (2019). Resistance Exercise-induced Changes in Muscle Phenotype Are Load Dependent. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 51(12), 2578-2585. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0000000000002088

Lopez, P., Radaelli, R., Taaffe, D. R., Galvão, D. A., Newton, R. U., Nonemacher, E. R., Wendt, V. M., Bassanesi, R. N., Turella, D. J. P., & Rech, A. (2022). Moderators of Resistance Training Effects in Overweight and Obese Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 54(11), 1804-1816. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0000000000002984


McLeod, M., Breen, L., Hamilton, D. L., & Philp, A. (2016). Live strong and prosper: the importance of skeletal muscle strength for healthy ageing. Biogerontology, 17(3), 497-510. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10522-015-9631-7

Sherrington, C., Fairhall, N. J., Wallbank, G. K., Tiedemann, A., Michaleff, Z. A., Howard, K., Clemson, L., Hopewell, S., & Lamb, S. E. (2019). Exercise for preventing falls in older people living in the community. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 1(1), Cd012424. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD012424.pub2

Additional information

What are the health benefits of weight lifting?

Weight lifting offers numerous benefits beyond muscle growth. It improves bone density, increases metabolism, boosts heart health, enhances cognitive function, and promotes better sleep. Incorporating weight lifting into your fitness routine can have a positive impact on both physical and mental well-being.

Benefits of Strength Training

Resistance exercise, also known as strength or weight training, is a form of physical activity gaining recognition for its numerous health benefits such as increasing bone density. This type of exercise involves working against a force, such as your body weight, free weights, weight machines, or resistance bands, to build muscle mass, strength, and endurance.

Living a Healthier Life

Muscle Mass and Strength: Resistance exercise is crucial for maintaining and enhancing muscle mass and strength, while improving bone density. As we age, lean muscle mass naturally diminishes. Strength training can help preserve and even enhance your muscle mass at any age.

Bone Health: Strength training can increase bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis by stressing your bones. Strong muscles lead to strong bones, which can help minimize the risk of fracture due to osteoporosis.

Weight Management:

Strength training can help manage or lose weight by increasing your metabolism, which helps you burn more calories.

Improved Quality of Life: Strength training can enhance your quality of life and improve your ability to do everyday activities.

Cancer Survivorship and Heart Health: Regular strength training can boost your metabolic rate, which means you’ll burn more calories even when your body is at rest. This can contribute to heart health. Strength training also improves cancer survivorship rates.

Living a Healthier Life-cont.

Blood Sugar Control: Resistance exercise can improve insulin sensitivity and blood glucose management, which is particularly important for individuals with type 1 diabetes.

Body Fat & Weight Management: Resistance training can help manage or lose weight by increasing your metabolism, which helps you burn more calories. This can potentially lead to a reduction in body fat.

Blood Pressure & Heart Disease: Regular strength training can contribute to heart health. While the article you provided doesn’t directly mention blood pressure, other sources suggest that resistance training can help lower blood pressure.

Arthritis: Resistance training can help manage arthritis by strengthening the muscles around the joints, which can reduce joint pain.

Incorporating Resistance Exercise into Your Routine

The American Heart Association recommends strength training at least twice per week. You can perform these exercises at home or at a gym, using equipment like free weights, weight machines, or resistance bands.

When starting a resistance exercise routine, focusing on all major muscle groups, including your arms, legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, and shoulders, is important. You can work with a personal trainer to ensure you’re performing the exercises correctly and safely. Regular resistance exercise can improve bone density minimizing the risks of falling related injuries. 

Other Benefits

Resistance exercise is a type of functional training that can help improve your ability to perform everyday activities, such as lifting heavy objects or climbing stairs. It’s also beneficial for improving posture and reducing the risk of injuries which are all part of healthy aging and cancer survivorship.

In conclusion, healthy aging using resistance exercise is a powerful tool for improving overall health, cancer survivorship, and well-being. It’s never too late to start, and the benefits are well worth the effort.

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