No doubt you’ve heard the slogan, “strong is the new skinny.” For
years women have focused on losing weight, sometimes using unhealthy techniques
like extreme calorie restriction, excessive aerobic exercise and weight loss
supplements. The tide seems to be turning as more women discover the power
weight training has to transform their body – and their mind. Rather than
depriving themselves, they’re fueling their bodies with whole foods that build
strong, defined muscles. Why is this a good thing? Here are five reasons why
strong is better than skinny.
Strong is about Functional Strength
Strength isn’t just about building defined biceps and thighs,
it’s about developing the strength you need to do everyday things like moving
furniture, carrying heavy loads and shoveling snow safely and more efficiently.
This makes everything you do easier. How do you achieve this? With an
integrated approach to strength-training – compound exercises that work
multiple muscle groups simultaneously, bodyweight exercises and exercises that
mimic movements you do in your everyday life. It also involves strengthening
your core, the part of your where most of your power originates.
“Strong” enhances your life and makes you more functionally fit
and capable. “Skinny,” if it comes from calorie restriction, under-nutrition
and too much aerobic exercise, makes you weaker and less able to do your daily
activities without feeling fatigued. Of course, there are people who are
naturally thin but even naturally thin people can benefit from strength
Skinny Doesn’t Mean
You’ve probably familiar with the term “skinny-fat.” It’s used
to describe people of normal or low body weight with a high ratio of fat to
muscle. If you fall into this category, you’re still at higher risk for type 2
diabetes despite not being overweight. Here’s where it gets interesting. A
study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found people
with type 2 diabetes that are under or at their ideal body weight have a
greater risk of dying from diabetes.
In contrast, research shows resistance training not only builds
strength – it increases insulin sensitivity and improves blood sugar control.
One study showed men that weight trained at least 150 minutes per week lowered
their risk for type 2 diabetes by between 35% and 50%. Skinny won’t necessarily
improve your blood sugar but strength training will.
Skinny is No Guarantee of Health
A study recently showed people who are underweight are at as
high risk of dying as people who are obese. This conclusion was based on a
meta-analysis of 51 different studies. People with a BMI of under 18.5 were at
1.8 times greater risk of dying relative to people of normal weight. This
finding held up even after the researchers controlled for factors like smoking
and chronic disease. Using extreme calorie restriction and excessive aerobic
exercise to get skinny carries risks too. Women who fall into this category may
experience a drop in estrogen that leads to osteoporosis and infertility. The
scale can be deceptive. It’s not a measure of health.
Strong Helps You Age Better
As you age, if you don’t strength train, skinny turns to frail.
You begin losing muscle mass by the age of 30 and the loss greatly accelerates
after 50. From then on you continue to lose strength and muscle mass. Along
with loss of strength and muscle mass, you lose functional strength. This means
you can’t do the things you once could do with ease. Muscle isn’t the only
thing you lose. You lose bone density too. Your risk for falls and fractures
goes up – including the most serious type of fracture – hip fractures.
“Strong” that comes through strength training slows down muscle
loss and helps preserve bone density. Even if you’re still in your 20s,
strength training helps you maximize your bone density so you’re better
protected against osteoporosis later.
Resistance training builds self-esteem. When you’re strong you
feel more comfortable with your body and have a more positive self-image. This
transfers over to all aspects of your life. You’re more confident at work and
in relationships. Strength-training and the confidence that comes from it
improves all aspects of your life.
One study carried out at McMaster University found twelve weeks
of strength training significantly improved how participants (men and women)
viewed their bodies. Along with gains in strength and lean body mass came
improvements in self-esteem and body image. In this study, women felt the most
satisfaction from knowing they could lift heavier and do more reps as a result
of their training. “Strong” changes how you look – and how you think.
The Bottom Line?
Strong has lots of benefits that skinny doesn’t – even if you’re
naturally thin. Age brings changes that make “skinny” hard to maintain. Even if
you manage to maintain it, body fat increases and muscle mass declines with
age. This leads to a more extreme form of skinny-fat – sarcopenia. Sarcopenia,
or the age-related loss of muscle mass, is one of the most serious problems
older people face because it increases the risk for mortality. “Strong” can
help you avoid it.
Science Daily. “Underweight people at as high risk of dying as
obese people, new study finds”
JAMA. 2012 Aug 8;308(6):581-90.
Diabetes Care August 2006 vol. 29 no. 8 1933-1941.
“Psychological aspects of resistance training” Michael H. Stone,
Meg Stone, and William A. Sands
Body Image, December 2005: vol 2: pp 363-372.