Hurry up and weight:  Why strength training is essential for everyone including children

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For almost 20 years people in the United States of America have been advised to do Strength training twice a week, in addition to their weekly 150 minutes of aerobic exercise.  It was only in 2011 that exercise guidelines in the United Kingdom caught-up...

But why have we been advised to add strength training to our workout?  And should everyone, young or old, really start moving weights? 

Improving cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure.

Most people believe aerobic exercise, such as walking or swimming, is the only type of exercise to improve blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and treat diabetes.  But in fact, strength training has all of these benefits and more. It can reduce the narrowing of arteries around the heart in patients with known heart disease, decreasing the risk of a heart attack.

Cross-over effect

Even a swollen knee or sore shoulder are no excuses for avoiding strengthening exercises.

Training your muscle to push or pull a weight on one side of the body produces fitness changes on the opposite side.  This is called a cross- over effect and was first documented in 1894.  Strength training involves the muscle cells and the nerves.  It is the cross-stimulation of the nerves on the injured side that results in an increase in muscle size and strength. 

So, if you have a swollen right knee or ankle, strengthening the left leg muscles will also build strength on the right side.


Insulin is a hormone produced in response to eating carbohydrates or sugar.  It normally 'tells' our muscle and liver to store glucose, but it also tells our body not to breakdown fat stores for energy. 

Building muscle means increasing the number and size of muscle cells within each muscle unit.  Instead of your muscle looking like a ‘marbled’ piece of meat, strength training produces lean muscle, like a fillet steak.  Muscle with less fat cells interspersed (Fillet Steak) are better 'listeners' and so need less insulin to store glucose.  Because your insulin levels are lower you can now access our fat stores for energy- this only works if you do not increase your daily energy intake i.e don't start overeating.

Aging, inflammation, and putting on fat

As you age your body looses muscle mass which is replaced by fat in between the muscle fibres.  This fat also gets laid down within the liver and around other organs.  So, if you put on weight it doesn't just go to your waist-line or hips. 

Fat cells contain white blood cells.  White blood cells are normally produced to help fight infection; however, when your muscle contain more fat cells they will also contain more white blood cells, even when there is no infection.  These white blood cells release substances that can cause inflammation (e.g.Interleukin-6 and TNF alpha)

Inflammation is normally useful when we have an infection or a cut to the skin, but once healing has taken place the inflammation should cease.  If, however, this inflammation continues i.e. chronic inflammation, it will slowly cause damage to other cells.  You may feel fine and have no initial symptoms, or, your doctor may have mentioned that your blood test for inflammation is slightly high.  This inflammation can affect your muscle cells leading to insulin resistance or diabetes.  It may also affect your blood vessels causing narrowing and eventually leading to a heart attack or stroke. 


five exercises you can do twice a week at home or at work. 

Click here for instructions on how to progress each of these exercises.

If have painful wrists or elbows, or carpel tunnel and cannot do a Wall Press-up, then try the 'Chest-press' using a Theraband.  These can be ordered on amazon.


  1. Doing exercises on the opposite side (uninjured side) will result in increased muscle strength on the injured side. This is called the cross-over effect.

  2. Fat cells produce substances that cause inflammation, which can increase your risk of other diseases.

  3. Strength training can reduce the number of fat cells in your muscle and liver if you are you are carrying excess weight around the waist.

  4. If you start building and maintaining muscle bulk you will:

  • Improve stability in your joints

  • Reduce heart disease

  • Treat or prevent type-2 diabetes

  • Slow down the process of aging

  • Reduce inflammation

  • Over-all mental well-being

  • Increase in bowel movements-which prevents constipation

  • Enhance the quality of our blood vessels.

  • In patients with heart disease moderate strength training can reduce narrowing of the arteries around the heart.

  • If you have asthma or chronic obstructive airways disease it improves breathing capacity.

  • In men and women with both osteoarthritis and inflammatory arthritis it increases joint stability, can reduce joint pain and swelling, and can lower the level of inflammation in the blood of some patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis.

  • Increase bone density, reducing your risk of thin bones or a fracture as you get older.

If you are overweight I recommend you have your blood pressure checked by your doctor before beginning strength training.  Your doctor may also invite you to have your lipids and glucose level checked too.

( Title photo credit: Scott Webb, Unsplashed)