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 training.
Skinny Doesn’t Mean Firm
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 of a 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 the 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 of 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.
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