12 Reasons You Should Lift Weights

Just because you're not vying for 20-inch biceps or thunderously strong thighs like the muscle heads in the gym doesn't mean you should shun the weight room. Lifting weights gives you an edge over belly fat, stress, heart disease, and cancer—and it's also the single most effective way to look hot in a bikini. Yet somehow women are still hesitant: Only about a fifth of females strength train two or more times a week.

Here are 12 reasons you shouldn't live another day without hitting the weights:

1. You'll lose 40 percent more fat.

If you think cardio is the key to blasting belly fat, keep reading: When Penn State researchers put dieters into three groups—no exercise, aerobic exercise only, or aerobic exercise and weight training—they all lost around 21 pounds, but the lifters shed six more pounds of fat than those who didn't pump iron. Why? The lifters' loss was almost pure fat; the others lost fat and muscle.

Other research on dieters who don't lift shows that, on average, 75 percent of their weight loss is from fat, while 25 percent is from muscle. Muscle loss may drop your scale weight, but it doesn't improve your reflection in the mirror and it makes you more likely to gain back the flab you lost. However, if you weight train as you diet, you'll protect your hard-earned muscle and burn more fat.

2. Your clothes will fit better.

Research shows that between the ages of 30 and 50, you'll likely lose 10 percent of your body's total muscle. Worse yet, it's likely to be replaced by fat over time, says a study. And that increases your waist size, because one pound of fat takes up 18 percent more space than one pound of muscle.

3. You'll burn more calories.

Lifting increases the number of calories you burn while your butt is parked on the couch. That's because after each strength workout, your muscles need energy to repair their fibers. In fact, researchers found that when people did a total-body workout with just three big-muscle moves, their metabolisms were raised for 39 hours afterward. They also burned a greater percentage of calories from fat compared with those who didn't lift.

Lifting gives you a better burn during exercise too: Doing a circuit of eight moves (which takes about eight minutes) can expend 159 to 231 calories. That's about what you'd burn if you ran at a 10-mile-per-hour pace for the same duration.

4. Your diet will improve.

Exercise helps your brain stick to a diet plan. University of Pittsburgh researchers studied 169 overweight adults and found that those who didn't follow a three-hours-a-week training regimen ate more than their allotted 1,500 calories a day. The reverse was also true— sneaking snacks sabotaged their workouts. The study authors say both diet and exercise likely remind you to stay on track, aiding your weight-loss goals.

5. You'll handle stress better.

Break a sweat in the weight room and you'll stay cool under pressure. Scientists determined that the fittest people exhibited lower levels of stress hormones than those who were the least fit. Another study found that after a stressful situation, the blood pressure levels of people with the most muscle returned to normal faster than the levels of those with the least muscle.

6. You'll be happier.

Yoga isn't the only Zen-inducing kind of exercise. Researchers found that people who performed three weight workouts a week for six months significantly improved their scores on measures of anger and overall mood.

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