Resistance Training May Help Counteract Skin Aging, New Research Shows

24 December 2023

Weightlifting shown to have additional benefits for skin health compared to aerobic exercise

Lifting weights has long been known to improve overall fitness and various aspects of health, such as bone health and cognitive function. However, recent research suggests that resistance training, also known as strength training or weightlifting, may also have a positive impact on the appearance and health of the skin. A study published in the journal Scientific Reports reveals that resistance training may enhance skin health even more than aerobic exercise. This finding adds to the growing body of evidence that exercise can have a significant impact on the skin’s appearance and overall well-being.

The Impact of Exercise on Skin Health

Previous research has indicated that aerobic exercise can improve the dermis, the layer of skin beneath the outer epidermis. In this new study, lead author Satoshi Fujita, PhD, and his team from Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan, sought to investigate whether resistance training would yield similar results. The researchers recruited 56 sedentary middle-aged Japanese women for the study. Half of the participants were instructed to ride a bike for 30 minutes twice a week for 16 weeks, while the other half engaged in weightlifting for the same amount of time.

The Findings

The researchers analyzed skin cells from the participants before and after the study. They found that both aerobic exercise and resistance training improved the skin’s elasticity and increased the expression of collagen-producing genes. Additionally, both forms of exercise enhanced the dermis’s extracellular matrix, which consists of collagen and elastic fibers that often deteriorate due to aging and sun exposure. However, the researchers discovered a key difference between the two groups. The women who engaged in weightlifting experienced a thickening of the dermal layer, leading to less sagging, fewer pigmented spots, and an overall more youthful appearance.

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Potential Mechanisms

While the exact mechanisms by which exercise improves skin health are not yet fully understood, Fujita suggests that exercise may reduce blood inflammatory factors that contribute to skin damage. Additionally, a 2015 study found that aerobic exercise increased the levels of interleukin-15 (IL-15), a protein that can stimulate the synthesis of mitochondria in skin cells. Aging, sun exposure, and pollution can damage mitochondria, so increasing their production through exercise may help counteract these effects.

Limitations and Future Research

Although the study provides promising results, Fujita acknowledges that more research is needed to fully understand the impact of resistance training on the outer layer of the skin. The study focused solely on the skin’s inner layer, and it remains unclear whether the observed changes would translate into visible skin benefits. Furthermore, the long-term effects of weightlifting on skin health and whether the benefits disappear after discontinuing the exercise routine are still unknown.

Working Out for Skin Health

Despite these limitations, experts suggest that incorporating both aerobic exercise and resistance training into one’s fitness routine can yield the best results for skin health. Dr. Lauren Eckert Ploch, a dermatologist, emphasizes that the anti-aging factors stimulated by exercise circulate throughout the bloodstream, benefiting the entire body rather than just specific muscle groups. However, it is important to note that exercise alone cannot counteract other harmful actions for the skin, such as smoking and sun exposure. Dr. Ploch advises individuals to continue practicing good skincare habits alongside their exercise regimen.

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The latest research adds to the growing body of evidence that exercise, particularly resistance training, can have a positive impact on skin health. While aerobic exercise has already been shown to improve the dermis, this study suggests that weightlifting may provide additional benefits, including a thicker dermal layer and a more youthful appearance. Incorporating both aerobic exercise and resistance training into one’s fitness routine is recommended for optimal skin health. However, further research is needed to fully understand the long-term effects of resistance training on the skin and whether the benefits are temporary. In the meantime, individuals are advised to continue practicing good skincare habits and protecting their skin from harmful factors.

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