The Basics: Build Muscle for Better Health

Strength training is about more than getting buff

By Barbara Russi Sarnataro
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

We all know how important cardiovascular exercise is -- how it's great for your heart, cholesterol, and blood pressure. And whether you choose to walk, bicycle, or jog, you know that any exercise that increases your heart rate helps you burn calories and melt away unwanted pounds.

But that's only half the equation.

For a balanced fitness program, strength training is essential. It can slow the muscle loss that comes with age, build the strength of your muscles and connective tissues, increase bone density, cut your risk of injury, and help ease arthritis pain.

"Strength training is very important, not just for your muscles but for your bones," says certified fitness trainer Debbie Siebers. "It's preventative for [bone-thinning] osteoporosis and other problems."

Studies from the CDC have found that muscle-building exercise can also improve balance, reduce the likelihood of falls, improve blood-sugar control, and improve sleep and mental health.

And let us not forget the weight-loss benefits. Not only does it make you look trimmer and shapelier, but building muscle also helps you burn calories -- even after your workout is done.

"Three to four hours after a strength-training workout, you're still burning calories," says Seibers, a creator of fitness videos including the "Slim in 6" series.