Exercise is known to be beneficial for our physical and mental health, but it turns out that the benefits of exercise extend to our skin as well. While aerobic training has been found to improve skin health, recent research suggests that weightlifting may be even more effective in rejuvenating the skin.
A recent study conducted in Japan involved 61 sedentary, middle-aged women who were divided into two groups. Both groups participated in exercise programs twice a week for 16 weeks, but one group focused on aerobic training while the other focused on resistance training using weight machines. The purpose of the study was to compare the effects of each type of training on the skin.
According to Satoshi Fujita, PhD, a co-author of the study and professor at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan, the effects of aerobic training and resistance training on the body are known to be different. Resistance training specifically leads to increased muscle size, while aerobic training improves cardiovascular fitness. The researchers hypothesized that these types of training would also have different effects on the skin.
After the 16-week study period, both groups experienced improvements in skin elasticity and upper dermal structure. However, the group that solely performed weight training also had increased dermal thickness. This is significant because the dermis, which lies just beneath the outer layer of the skin (epidermis) and contains nerves, blood vessels, and glands, tends to thin over time, contributing to sagging and other signs of aging.
Amy McClung, MD, a dermatologist based in Austin, Texas, describes this research as exciting because aging typically causes a deterioration of the dermis, including a decrease in elasticity and thickness. Resistance training, in particular, increased dermal thickness by influencing various factors that contribute to it, rather than thinning the dermis.
How exercise affects the appearance of the skin
When we exercise, our bodies produce different proteins called cytokines that facilitate communication between cells. Exercise also affects hormone levels, metabolites, and other factors that influence the makeup of the skin. In this study, blood samples taken before and after the training programs were analyzed, and both aerobic and resistance training were found to produce factors that reduce inflammation and increase the expression of genes responsible for collagen production and other skin proteins.
However, the specific factors produced by each type of training differed. Resistance training, in particular, led to the production of factors that increase the production of skin proteins, including biglycan. The researchers theorized that the increase in biglycan resulting from resistance training may explain why this type of training led to increased dermal thickness.
Dr. Satoshi explains that biglycan is an essential component of skin protein that tends to decrease with age and sun exposure. Animal studies have shown that mice that do not produce this protein have thinner dermises.
The skin benefits of exercise as part of your beauty routine
You might be wondering how much weightlifting is necessary to improve the appearance of your skin. According to Dr. Satoshi, even less intense resistance training can have an effect on the skin, as muscle hypertrophy (increased muscle size) is not the main factor contributing to skin improvement. However, to induce an anti-inflammatory effect, it is recommended to perform weight training that engages the larger muscles of the body, preferably both upper and lower body muscles.
While the study participants used weight machines, resistance training can also be done using bands, kettlebells, or even your own body weight. It is also important to incorporate aerobic training into your routine, as it benefits both your cardiovascular system and the health of your skin, as advised by Dr. McClurg.