Hit the Gym for Younger Skin

There's a definite connection between exercise and how our skin looks. Studies show it's even bigger than we thought. Here's what you should know.
exercise and skin, woman working out and looking in the mirror, weight lifting

Sagging, wrinkled, or dimpled skin are issues that many women struggle with as they age. We slather on creams, inject fillers, and subject ourselves to lasers and scalpels, all in the name of reducing jowls, tightening necks, snatching jawlines, smoothing cellulite, and getting rid of that “chicken skin” that suddenly appears on our elbows and knees.

While nothing short of surgery offers a “quick fix” for restoring your face to a semblance of what it once was, there may be another weapon to add to your war on aging skin. A recent study published in Scientific Reports found that adding strength training to your fitness routine may help you firm more than your derriere. It may also help you tighten up your face.

Didn’t we already know this? Well, sort of. While it’s true that the positive effects of exercise on the skin have been studied and reported in the past, the difference is that those studies focused primarily on aerobic activity like running or cycling. This latest study, conducted by a team led by  Satoshi Fujita, Ph.D., an exercise scientist at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan,  focused solely on how strength training affected the skin compared to aerobic activity alone.

The Details

skin layers

According to Health, Fujita and team conducted a 16-week study on “56 sedentary middle-aged Japanese women.” Half of the women rode a bike for 30 minutes twice a week, while the other half lifted weights for the same amount of time. After looking at the women’s skin cells both before and after the 16 weeks, the researchers concluded that both groups experienced an increase in the collagen and elastin fibers that grow lax through aging and environmental factors. Both groups also experienced an increase in elasticity and collagen-producing genes. However, only the women who lifted weights saw a plumping of the skin’s dermis, the underlying supporting layer of skin that helps it look firmer, tighter, and, well, younger.

“Our results suggested that resistance exercise had a more positive effect on the skin than aerobic exercise,” Fujita told Health.

Why It Works

woman stretching out wrinkles in the mirror

To understand why strength training may improve the thickness of the skin, it is important to understand the structure of the body’s largest organ. Most of us are only concerned with the epidermis, or outer layer of skin, and with good reason: it’s the one that is the most visible and tells the world how well we’ve taken care of ourselves over the years. Sun damage, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and a poor diet all show up on our faces, and over time, they can lead to sagging, discoloration, wrinkling, or crepiness that can make us look older than our years. But underneath that top layer are two more layers that play essential roles in the big picture.

The bottom layer, or hypodermis, is the fatty layer that cushions the muscles and bones, protecting them from injury. Sandwiched in between the epidermis and the hypodermis lies the dermis. This middle ground is where the good stuff happens. Collagen and elastin that keep the skin firm and bouncy live here, as do oil glands that keep it smooth and supple. If you think of your skin as a house, the dermis is the foundation that keeps everything from collapsing. When the dermis gets thin, all those signs we associate with aging skin become more pronounced.

It’s Worth the Weights

Woman lifting weights, bicep curls

You know the afterglow is real if you’ve ever had a good sweat sesh at the gym. That increase in blood flow can make you look radiant and healthy. But can strength training really make a difference so big that it shows on your face? The jury is still out. Remember, the results shown in this study were experienced at the dermal level. It remains to be seen how long it takes those results to be outwardly visible, especially on the face.

“We don’t know for sure that this change in the dermis would cause visible skin benefits,” Rajani Katta, MD, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine who wasn’t involved in the research, told Health.

The study was also done in a group of sedentary, mature women. There is no data to determine how the results might differ for younger women or women who already enjoy an active lifestyle. Nor does it account for what happens to the skin if the strength training stops. In other words, there are still a lot of variables out there. So, while you may not want to give up your facials and fillers just yet, there are plenty of other reasons to add strength training to your life that have nothing to do with your face. For starters, it can help prevent the loss of bone density and muscle mass, two things that tend to escalate once we reach the post-menopause years. In the grand scheme of things, the overall benefits of strength training outweigh any excuses for avoiding it. You’ll feel stronger, healthier, and more confident. And when you feel beautiful and strong on the inside, it will always show on your face.

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