Resistance Training May Help Counteract Skin Aging, New Research Shows

22 December 2023

Weightlifting can potentially enhance skin health and improve its appearance, according to a recent study.

Lifting weights has long been known to have numerous benefits, from improving bone health to cognitive function. However, new research suggests that resistance training, also known as strength training or weightlifting, may also have a positive impact on the appearance of the skin. The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, found that resistance training may enhance skin health even more than aerobic exercise. This research adds to the growing body of evidence that exercise can improve skin quality and offers new insights into the specific benefits of different types of exercise.

The Impact of Exercise on Skin

Previous research has shown that aerobic exercise can improve the dermis, the layer of skin beneath the outer epidermis. To investigate whether resistance training would have a similar effect, researchers at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan, conducted a study involving 56 sedentary middle-aged Japanese women. Half of the participants were instructed to ride a bike for 30 minutes twice a week for 16 weeks, while the other half lifted weights for the same amount of time.

Positive Effects of Both Exercises

The study found that both aerobic exercise and resistance training improved the skin’s elasticity, its ability to bounce back into shape after being stretched. Both forms of exercise also increased the expression of collagen-producing genes and strengthened the dermis’s extracellular matrix, the network of collagen and elastic fibers that deteriorates with age and sun exposure. However, the researchers discovered a key difference between the two groups: the women who engaged in resistance training experienced a thickening of the dermal layer, resulting in less sagging, fewer pigmented spots, and an overall more youthful appearance.

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The Role of Inflammatory Factors and Mitochondria

While the exact mechanisms behind exercise’s impact on skin improvement are not fully understood, researchers believe that the decrease in blood inflammatory factors caused by exercise may play a role. A previous study also found that aerobic exercise increases levels of the protein interleukin-15 (IL-15), which can help stimulate the synthesis of mitochondria in skin cells. Mitochondria are responsible for powering up cells and can be damaged by aging, sun exposure, and pollution.

Limitations and Future Research

Although the study suggests that resistance exercise may rejuvenate facial appearance, it only examined the skin’s inner layer. Further research is needed to determine if weightlifting has visible benefits for the outer skin. Additionally, it is unclear whether the positive effects would persist once individuals stop their weightlifting routine.

The Importance of a Balanced Exercise Routine

Experts recommend incorporating both resistance training and cardiovascular exercise into one’s fitness regimen to achieve optimal skin health. While aerobic exercise alone can improve skin quality, adding resistance training may yield even better results. Dr. Lauren Eckert Ploch, a dermatologist, emphasizes that the benefits of exercise are not localized to specific muscle groups, as the anti-aging factors released during exercise circulate throughout the body. However, it is crucial to remember that exercise does not negate the damaging effects of other factors, such as smoking and sun exposure, on the skin.

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Conclusion: The latest research provides compelling evidence that resistance training can have a significant impact on skin health and appearance. While aerobic exercise is already known to improve the dermis, weightlifting offers additional benefits, such as thickening the dermal layer and reducing sagging and pigmented spots. Incorporating both resistance training and cardiovascular exercise into one’s fitness routine is recommended to achieve optimal skin health. However, more research is needed to fully understand the long-term effects of resistance training on the skin and whether these benefits persist after discontinuing the exercise routine. In the quest for youthful-looking skin, exercise proves to be a powerful tool, but it should not replace other skincare practices and protective measures against skin damage.

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