Sure, it’s nice to have toned arms, legs and abs. And it makes carrying your groceries or walking up steps that much easier. But those are just a few of the benefits women get from resistance training, aka strength training.

Unfortunately, most women aren’t getting in on the action. Only about one in four people over age 20 engage in resistance training according to James Churilla, PhD, associate professor of exercise science and chronic disease at the University of North Florida. “And for every two men who lift weights, only one woman does.”

Here are six surprising reasons you should start lifting weights or practicing some other form of resistance training (such as using stretch bands) at least twice a week.

1. Better brain health

woman thinkingResearch suggests weight training can help older adults sharpen their mental focus and slow the rate of decline in memory and thinking. In a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in October 2015, researchers scanned the brains of the women ages 65 to 75 before and after a yearlong exercise program. They found women who did weight training twice a week had significantly fewer “white matter lesions” on their brains than those who lifted weights only once a week or not at all. Those lesions are associated with cognitive decline and falls among the elderly.

“We found that partaking in resistance training twice per week could improve both one’s cognitive performance as well as brain health,” notes co-author Teresa Liu-Ambrose, PhD, a professor of physical therapy and director of the aging, mobility, and cognitive neuroscience laboratory at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Even women who already have brain impairment can benefit, she added. (Photo: PathDoc/Shutterstock)

Related: Forget Brain Training — Do This For Your Memory Instead

2. Fewer bone fractures

Post-menopausal women can lose 1 to 2 percent of their bone mass annually. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, about half of all women over 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis. Strength training stresses bones, which reduces the risk of osteoporosis according to the Mayo Clinic. A recent Tufts University study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed strength training increased bone density and reduced the risk of fractures among women ages 50 to 70.

Related: Outsmart Osteoporosis: Bone Up Without Drugs

3. A lower diabetes risk

blood sugarStrength training makes your body more sensitive to insulin and can lower blood sugar levels, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). That’s why the ADA recommends doing some type of strength training at least twice a week.

“Engaging in resistance exercise or weight training is one way to prevent and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome,” says Churilla. “And the more you engage, the lower your risk.”

A study of more than 5,000 American adults found that people who lifted weights had a 37 percent lower risk of metabolic syndrome, a serious risk factor for heart disease, than those who didn’t. (Photo: Syda Productions/Shutterstock)

4. A healthier heart

heart diseaseStrength training has been shown to lower cholesterol levels and abdominal fat, two risk factors for heart disease. “If you engage in at least two days a week of weight training, your odds are a lot lower of having a bigger waistline,” says Churilla. You’re also likely to have lower “bad” cholesterol, he adds.

In the past, doctors feared weight training might be dangerous for people with heart disease, but now the American Heart Association recommends resistance training for low-risk cardiac patients. If you have heart disease, talk with your doctor before starting weight training. (Photo: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock)

5. Better moods

Studies are mixed, but there is some evidence that strength training can help fight depression. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the effect of regular strength training may be similar to that of antidepressant medications. It is unclear whether people feel better because they’re stronger or because of a chemical reaction in the brain, but the agency notes it is likely both. A Harvard study found that depressed seniors who underwent 10 weeks of resistance training had lower depression scores and improved strength, morale and quality of life.

Related: Exercise Rx for Depression

6. Less arthritis pain

joint painIf you have arthritis, the idea of weight lifting may make you nervous. But if done correctly, it should help, not hurt. A 16-week program at Tufts University involving older adults with moderate to severe knee arthritis found strength training decreased pain by 43 percent while improving physical performance. The conclusion: Strength training was just as effective, if not more effective, than medication for treating arthritis pain.

If you have arthritis, try to time workouts when your pain is lowest, according to Harvard Health Publications. Its authors add that if you are out of shape, start slowly so you don’t risk joint damage. (Photo: PathDoc/Shutterstock)

Related: Injury-Proof Your Exercise Resolution

Mary Purcell is a freelance writer and health researcher in Piedmont, Calif., with expertise in policy analysis. She has a master's degree in Latin American studies from Georgetown University.