This post originally appeared on John’s website, The Progressing Pilgrim.
Everyone wants to find a fountain of youth. But it’s only a myth, right? However, what if I told you there is something you can do that’s scientifically proven to help you live a longer, healthier life? And, it’s safe, effective, efficient, inexpensive, and only takes about 30 – 40 minutes three times a week.
Oh, and you can start doing it no matter how old you are! Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it!
But it’s not. At 62 years old, I’ve done it, and it works. It’s called strength training.
When I started strength training, I was a muscular mess. Due to 28 years of severe chronic fatigue syndrome and shoulder bursitis, I was weak and brittle. But in three years I was able to regain muscle mass and become stronger than I ever was.
Here’s me deadlifting 300 pounds last summer at a body weight of 165 pounds.
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In today’s post, I’ll show you why strength training, even if you’re over 40 years old, can help you increase your healthspan (how well you live) and, perhaps, even your lifespan (how long you live). In my next post, I’ll show you how to do it easily, safely, and efficiently.
Before I get into how strength training will help you live a healthier and longer life, let’s consider our aging process.
How Well Will You Age?
Aging is a normal human process. You’re going to age. I’m going to age. There’s no fountain of youth or magic elixir we can drink that will give us perpetual youth.
However, even though we can’t stay young forever in this world, that doesn’t mean that we should pay no mind at all to our aging process. God has created us for a purpose. And more likely than not in order to fulfill that purpose we need good health, even into our senior years.
But also consider how much time you spend preparing for your senior years. You contribute to your IRAs. You closely monitor your retirement accounts and hope that your pensions will be there when you retire. But what about your aging process? What good is preparing for your monetary future if you can’t enjoy your life because of poor health?
Therefore, one of the most important questions anyone over the age of 40 should ask themselves is “how well will I age?” Now I’ll ask you a question. Do you know that how well you age is related to how much inflammation you have going on in your body?
Aging And Inflammation
Researchers how found that inflammation plays an important part in the aging process. See here and here. One of the culprits in this process is a cytokine called IL-6. IL-6 is a small protein your body secretes to signal an inflammatory response. Inflammation is not always a bad thing. However, when IL-6 is chronically over secreted bad things happen. Among those are poor aging (disease, disability, and frailty) and early mortality.
Researchers have given a term to poor aging caused by chronic inflammation. It’s called inflammaging.
Now, here’s the important thing for us. One thing that causes IL-6 to increase in our bodies is chronic disease. Unfortunately, in America today the number of us being plagued by a number of chronic diseases is staggering. Sixty percent of Americans have one chronic disease and 4o percent have two or more.
This means that a large amount of our population is experiencing a significant amount of chronic inflammation. Which means, yeah, we’re not aging well.
The Sick Aging Phenotype
Medical doctor and strength coach Jonathon Sullivan in his book The Barbell Prescription: Strength Training for Life After 40, has described a phenotype of our population that exhibits chronic inflammatory diseases.
He calls this the sick aging phenotype. It is characterized by the following medical conditions.
The first is the metabolic syndrome. This disease, which is largely caused by lifestyle factors, includes:
- Abdominal or Visceral Obesity – In 2014, it was estimated that more than 1 in 3 adults were considered to be overweight and more than 2 in 3 adults were considered to be overweight or have obesity.
- Insulin Resistance & Hyperglycemia (Type 2 Diabetes) – It is estimated that more than 100 million U.S. adults are now living with diabetes or prediabetes.
- Hypertension – In 2013 about 78 million Americans had hypertension. That number has recently grown since medical guidelines have changed.
- Dyslipidemia (Deranged serum HDL & triglyceride levels) – In 2013, about 40 million Americans were taking a statin. NB: This does not necessarily mean that everyone who has been prescribed a statin has dyslipidemia. See my post on why I rejected statin therapy.
Polypharmacy is another aspect that Sullivan includes in the sick-aging phenotype. It’s a word you don’t hear that often. But I guarantee you know of it. Polypharmacy refers to the simultaneous use of multiple drugs by a single patient, for one or more conditions.
Most of my friends and family members my age, and probably yours as well, are either on a statin, a hypertensive med, a heart med, a diabetes med, a prostate med, a pain med, an arthritis pill, a depression pill, a purple pill, a pill for a delicate male problem (you know what I mean), or some other medicine used to treat some chronic health condition. And most of them are on many of these drugs at the same time.
Have you ever stopped to think what’s going on here? Are we really that unhealthy of a nation?
Age-Related Sarcopenia: Everyone Over 35 Years-old Is Experiencing Muscle Decline
The above diseases are not, however, the only diseases particular to the sick-aging phenotype. Aging itself has consequences.
Did you know that if you’re over the age of 30 you will begin to experience some amount of muscle loss every year? It’s called age-related sarcopenia. Now, if you’re a couch potato like I was, then the amount of muscle you lose can be even worse.
Researchers estimate that physically inactive people can lose as much as 3% to 5% of their muscle mass each decade after age 30. After a while, that can add up to some serious muscle loss.
Also, consider that older people can experience up to a 40% reduction in type II muscles fibers. These are the muscles fibers responsible for explosive movements like lifting 300 pounds over your head. They’re also responsible for movements like getting up from a chair or off the toilet. These are not movements you want to see a decline in.
Obviously, you can only ignore this kind of muscle loss at your own peril. Consider what it may mean for you as you age.
A Loss Of Muscle Means A Loss Of Strength
If you don’t stop the loss of your muscle mass, you will get weaker. That’s a fact of life. And weakness is not something you want, especially as you get older. Consider some of the consequences of weakness in old age.
- Your quality of life becomes seriously compromised. Simple tasks like climbing stairs, lifting your grandkids, or lifting groceries out of the car will become a struggle
- Your independence will suffer as you begin to rely on others for help
- People with lower levels of strength don’t live as long as people with higher levels of strength
- Older individuals with weak leg power have poorer cognitive skills
- Older individuals without strength can’t help others
- Individuals with less lean mass are less insulin sensitive meaning they are more susceptible to chronic illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome
- Older people with low muscle mass are more likely to experience a fall
The good news is that you don’t have to follow this path. Even if you have some of the above conditions, there is hope.
Thankfully, Your Future Is Not Set In Stone
Recently, I watched the movie Scrooge starring Alastair Sim. This was the 1951 adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Towards the end of the movie, the Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge a gravestone. Horrified that his name is on it, Scrooge asks the spirit if his future is unalterable or if there is something he can do to change it. As we know, Scrooge did change this vision of the future by keeping Christmas as well as any man in England.
When it comes to the sick-aging phenotype, you can have a say in your future. Strength training can make you healthier and stronger. It’s even possible to reverse years of damage caused by years of poor lifestyle choices.
We can’t completely stop the aging process, but we can do things that will improve the quality of life as we age. We can get stronger, stay stronger, and stay healthy even into our 80s and perhaps 90s.
Turning It Around
You can age well, and there is one medicine that has been scientifically proven to help you do it. And it may even extend your lifespan as well.
The medicine is called strength training. Although strength training is not a panacea for all that ails you, it is a necessity. While proper diet is also essential for keeping you well into old age (see my posts on diet), even Hippocrates in the 4th century B.C. knew there was more,
Eating alone will not keep a man well; he must also take exercise. For food and exercise, while possessing opposite qualities, yet work together to produce health.
Many researchers today are coming to the conclusion that strength training is a key ingredient to maintaining health and aging well. In fact, it may be the next best thing to a fountain of youth!
Let’s see how strength training can do this, and we’ll see if strength training can actually increase your lifespan.
You Can Build Muscle At Any Age
There have been numerous scientific studies done that prove strength training will improve the muscle mass of people even if they are well into their senior years. See this recent study here.
Another incredible study showed that seniors who strength trained for 4 months were able to improve the mitochondrial age of their muscle tissue. That means their muscle tissue actually got younger. See my post here.
Joseph Signorile, the author of the book Bending the Aging Curve provides this enlightening graph to show us how resistance training can affect your muscle mass.
According to Signorile, someone who started training in their forties was able to substantially improve muscle quality. In fact, that person at 80 years old had the same muscle as someone 20 years younger. Further, the person who started strength training in their forties was able to have almost the same muscle mass in their eighties as someone who had been training for their entire life.
I’m not saying that strength training will absolutely increase your lifespan. Those years are determined by the Lord. Though it may. But what I can say is that if you do strength train, you will build muscle. And more muscle means you will be stronger. And that means you’ll really be helping yourself avoid the negative health consequences associated with sarcopenia.
Also, remember that more muscle mass improves insulin sensitivity. This is what you want, especially if you suffer from metabolic syndrome.
Is there scientific evidence though that suggests a stronger body increases healthspan and lifespan? In my best Stallone voice, “Absolutely”.
Grip Strength Studies
Grip strength is used by health professionals as a gauge for overall body strength. In 2015, researchers in Germany reviewed 14 epidemiological studies and found that increased strength (as measured by grip) was significantly associated with lower all-cause mortality. They also found that this pattern held for cardiovascular and cancer mortality.
The Pure Study
The Pure Study (Prospective Urban-Rural Epidemiology), published in 2015, studied 139,691 individuals from 2003 – 2009. There was a 4 year follow up with each individual. The study found that low grip strength was associated with all-cause mortality, cardiovascular mortality, non-cardiovascular mortality, myocardial infarction, and stroke. They even found that grip strength was a stronger predictor of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality than systolic blood pressure.
In 2015, the Lancet published a paper which examined several systematic reviews and a meta-analysis on the significance of grip strength. They concluded that grip strength is a simple but powerful predictor of future disability, morbidity, and mortality. This trend held not only in older people but also the middle-aged and young people.
If you’re looking for a biomarker of aging, look at strength!
Does Increased Grip Strength Lessen the Negative Health Effect of Obesity?
In 2017, a UK study of 403,199 individuals with obesity found that greater grip strength was associated with an 8 percent lower risk of mortality. Men and women with greater grip strength had lower risks of mortality, independent of adiposity (body fat).
They concluded their study with this statement,
Lower grip strength and excess adiposity are both independent predictors of higher mortality risk. The higher mortality risk associated with excess adiposity is attenuated, although not completely attenuated (emphasis mine), by greater GS. Interventions and policies should focus on improving the muscular strength of the population regardless of their degree of adiposity.
Again, increased strength appears to increase longevity.
Okay that all sounds good. But we know that correlation doesn’t mean causation. The question really is can strength training increase longevity.
Does Strength Training Increase Longevity?
In 2016, Penn State University performed a 15 year, large cohort study of individuals over the age of 65. The researchers found that those individuals who strength trained (n=30,162), 46% had lower odds of all-cause mortality than those who did not. Therefore, seniors who strength trained not only improved their fitness but also their survival rate.
Once again we cannot prove causation here. But the cohort was large, and the implication that strength training increases physical health and longevity is extremely strong.
Possible Reasons Why Strength Training Increases Health And Longevity
It’s nearly impossible to prove exactly why strength training improves health and longevity, but here are some possible reasons:
- Improved neuromuscular coordination and balance – Decreased possibility of a fall
- Increased insulin sensitivity – see here
- Improved cardiovascular conditioning
- Improved myokine production
Okay, so there you have it. Maintaining strength is essential for living a healthy long life. And the only way to maintain strength is by improving your muscle mass. The only way to do that is by doing some kind of strength training.
In that respect, strength training may be the next best thing to a fountain of youth!
Now, don’t you want to jump right in and start training? Not so fast. There are some things you have to know first. In my next post, I’ll discuss how I started training, and I give you in detail the program I used to get strong at 62.
God bless. See you next time.
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