February 25, 2024

F1000 Scientist

Health to Life

Strength Training – The Fountain of Youth

In the sixteenth century, the famous explorer Ponce de Leone set out to discover the fountain of youth. Intent on finding an elixir that that could magically restore vim and vigor, he sailed far and wide in search of his dream. But as we all know, his quest proved to be futile; there was no fountain of youth. Alas, poor Ponce died at 61-looking every bit his age.

Nearly four hundred years later, people still are searching for a magic youth potion and they’ll pay almost anything for a product that promises to turn back the clock. Shameless hucksters continue capitalize on this frenzied desire, touting everything from bee pollen to rhinoceros horn as youth-enhancing formulas. Sadly, these products are nothing more than snake oil and those duped into buying them are ultimately left disappointed.

However, there is a tried and true remedy that really can reverse the aging process: strength training. Yes, lifting weights is the answer to renewed vitality! Without question, no other activity has more of an impact on your overall health and well being. Sure, aerobic exercise is important. It conditions the cardiovascular system and helps to expedite caloric expenditure. However, all things considered, nothing compares to the myriad benefits that are derived from a dedicated strength training program.

Unfortunately, there are those who still believe that strength training is reserved for buffed hardbodies with bulging biceps and six-pack abs. Rest assured, however, pumping iron isn’t just for bodybuilders: it’s for everyone. No matter what your age or present physical condition, lifting weights will help to improve the quality of your life. If you’re not convinced of this fact, consider what strength training can do:

Increases Strength: After the age of 35, sedentary individuals lose as much as one percent of their muscle mass per year. Consequently, their ability to perform everyday tasks such as lifting packages or moving furniture gradually declines. By the time they become senior citizens, simply getting up out of bed can be a real chore. Medical practitioners have termed this condition sarcopenia-the progressive wasting of muscle tissue. Weight training is the only activity that counteracts sarcopenia, helping to restore lost muscle and regenerate strength. Positive results are even seen in the elderly, irrespective of previous training experience. Studies have shown that when otherwise sedentary nursing home patients (aged 80 to 90 years) are put on a structured weight lifting program, their strength levels increase by 50 percent in a matter of weeks! Thus, dedicated strength training can help to keep the golden years golden rather than enfeebling.

Increases Bone Density: Healthy bones often are taken for granted. As with muscle, people lose up to one percent of their bone density per year after the age of thirty-an amount that doubles during menopause. Eventually, this can lead to osteoporosis-a debilitating disease that causes bone tissue to deteriorate from the inside out. Osteoporosis is by no means uncommon, affecting more than 25 million people a year. In severe cases, bones become so brittle that they can break from a simple sneeze! Only through regular weight bearing exercise can bone loss be counteracted. By promoting new bone mineral formation, bone density gradually improves. Over time, osteoporosis can be completely reversed, resulting in strong, healthy bones.

Elevates Metabolism: Muscle is the most metabolically active bodily tissue. Studies show that, for each pound of muscle, your body burns an additional 50 calories a day at rest. To put this in perspective, by gaining a mere five pounds of muscle (a feat that can be accomplished in a few months of dedicated strength training), caloric expenditure is increased by 250 calories a day, seven days a week! Conversely, aerobics mainly burn calories during exercise performance. There is only a mild carryover effect and virtually no impact on resting metabolic rate. In fact, when calories are restricted, aerobics can actually result in the catabolism (breakdown) of muscle tissue, actually slowing down metabolic rate. Taking all factors into account, the evidence is clear: strength training is even more beneficial than cardiovascular exercise for achieving long-term weight management.

Promotes Better Posture: Your posture says a lot about you. Poor posture causes you to slouch, contributing to a tired, haggard-looking appearance. This has a profound effect on how others perceive you and makes you look older than your years. Conversely, an erect posture projects a youthful exuberance that transcends your age. By standing tall, you display an aura of self-confidence that commands respect both in your professional and social endeavors. Fortunately, targeted strength training can do wonders for your posture. By focusing on the muscles of the shoulder girdle (teres major, rhomboids, trapezius, etc.), the scapula (shoulder blades) is stabilized and postural integrity is restored. With dedicated effort, other conditions such as lordosis (swayback) and kyphosis (hunchback) also can be ameliorated.

Improves Self-Image: As the saying goes, “When you look good, you feel good.” Without a doubt, your appearance has a major impact on your psyche. There is no better way to transform your body than through regimented weight training. While cardiovascular exercise can help to shed excess fat from your body, it really has almost no effect on muscle tone. Conversely, weight training helps to shape your muscles, promoting a lean, sculpted physique that exudes sex appeal. Whether you’re young or old, thin or overweight, several months of pumping iron will make your body more aesthetically pleasing. Invariably, your self-esteem will improve, fostering a renewed confidence in your abilities.

Reduces Stress: Strength training can be very therapeutic. It provides an outlet for your aggressions, allowing you to channel stress and relieve anxiety. Moreover, as you train, the brain begins to secrete endorphins-opiate-like chemical messengers that promote an “exercise high.” Until recently, it was thought that endorphins were only associated with cardiovascular exercise. However, newly released studies have shown that, after a strength training session, endorphin levels are increased by more than 60 percent. Hence, an intense weight training session will leave you feeling rejuvenated and even euphoric, keeping your mind trouble-free.

Improves Sports Performance: More and more, people are maintaining an active lifestyle into their golden years. Golf, tennis, skiing and other activities are becoming increasing popular with the older sect. Whether you’re a weekend warrior or an aspiring pro, weight training is one of the best ways to increase athletic prowess. Virtually every athletic endeavor requires a good degree of muscular strength and targeted training protocols can be developed to maximize this fact. By training in a manner specific to a sport, significant improvements in performance can be seen.

In sum, if you’re not currently involved in a strength training program, start one today. Don’t wait! The sooner you begin, the better off you’ll be. It’s the closest thing that we have to the fountain of youth. Remember, it’s never too late to start.