By Dr. Mercola
Strength training is an integral part of a well-rounded exercise program, and is recommended for both sexes of all ages, including kids and seniors. In the video above, Skyler Tanner, the youngest Superslow™ certified instructor in history, discusses how to make intense exercise safe, effective and efficient.
Unfortunately, many ignore weight training when devising their exercise plan, thinking they don't want to "bulk up."
But gaining more muscle through resistance exercises has many benefits, from losing excess fat to maintaining healthy bone mass and preventing age-related muscle loss as you age.
The intensity of your resistance training can achieve a number of beneficial changes on the molecular, enzymatic, hormonal, and chemical level in your body, which will also help slow down (and many cases stop) many of the diseases caused by a sedentary lifestyle.
Therefore it's also an essential element if you want to prevent common diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, or weakening of your bones (osteoporosis), limited range of motion, aches and pains.
Strength Training Beneficially Impacts 10 Biomarkers of Aging
As explained by Tanner, above, biomarkers of aging are "the 10 determinants of aging that you are capable of controlling. They are things that tell you how old you would be if you didn't know how old you were." This includes the following — all of which strength training has a beneficial impact on:
Strength and muscle mass (which results in greater balance, as you get older)
|| Body composition
|| Blood lipids
| Bone density
|| Cardiorespiratory fitness
|| Blood pressure
| Blood glucose control
|| Aerobic capacity
|| Gene expression, and telomere length
Why Those with Heart Disease Should Not Shun Strength Training
According to Tanner, strength training may be of particular benefit for those with heart disease, and here's why:
"Chronic congestive heart failure is the inability of your heart to supply your body with a sufficient amount of blood... [In one study] they put these individuals on a leg press [and] inserted the central catheter to measure exactly what was going on, on a moment-by-moment basis.
What they found was that at the highest intensities on a leg press, over 80 percent of their one rep max... the more the vascular system opened up and allowed for blood flow to occur.
This in part is because in order for the heart – again, it's a closed hydraulic system – to pump, it has to be getting blood back. The way this works is that your left ventricle, the largest, pumps [the blood] out. It comes back to the right aorta, which then moves the blood into the right ventricle (which pumps it through your lungs), and then back in the left aorta (which moves in to the left ventricle), back to move out of your body.
That's why the left is larger. It's got to move the blood the larger distance, rather than just front and back to your body.
What happens is with these smooth, controlled contractions of a leg press... the muscle's actually constricting on the vascular system and shortening the amount of blood that's moved each repetition. If you think about running, it's a series of [short] repetitions. More smooth, heavy effort leg press [exercises] is pumping huge amounts of blood back to the heart, so it's more efficient.
If you don't have to pump very fast, if your rate of [exertion] is smooth and consistent, you don't have to constantly adjust to these changes in a pressure. That's why strength training shows a slight increase in arterial stiffening, an increase in vasodilation, and a reduction in blood pressure while working. People with heart failure, you guys, you just need to work out hard leg press, and your heart's going to be in great shape."
Strength Training for Blood Glucose Control
Normalizing your blood glucose is also very important if you want to avoid, are at high risk, or have already been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. By controlling your glucose levels, you can reduce your risk of a cardiovascular disease event by a respectable 42 percent. Strength training can be very beneficial for glucose control. According to Tanner:
"Strength training drains glucose like you wouldn't believe. Two sets of 10... use about five grams of glucose, or to keep it simple, carbohydrate. So, a workout might use 35 to 60 grams of carbohydrates, depending on how long it is, with weights. It's not nearly as aggressively draining those muscle tissues with a cardiorespiratory-type training.
The thing about your muscles is they do not like losing any glycogen at all, so there's a process called super compensation. When you drain them, they make room for more glycogen to be stored. If you're constantly somewhat emptying the tank, you always create a headroom to take on any amount of glucose – or not any.
There's a limit. It's something to the effect of 1,200 grams for 180-pound person. That's about the maximum amount of intramuscular glycogen only for short periods of time, and only after fully unloaded tissue. We're talking about endurance athletes big time. [For] your average person, maybe it's about 500 grams. But if you're constantly pulling out of this tank and reinvesting, pulling out and reinvesting, your body makes room for more of this. You don't have to ever have abnormal blood glucose levels, because it always has somewhere to go."
Intense Exercise = A Potent Anti-Aging Strategy
While it's never too late to start exercising, the earlier you begin and the more consistent you are, the greater your long-term rewards. Having an active lifestyle is really an investment in your future well-being. Interestingly, strength training has been found to have a beneficial impact on your gene expression — not only slowing aging but actually returning gene expression to youthful levels in seniors who start using resistance training. According to Tanner:
"...they showed that strength training in the elderly reversed oxidative stress and returned gene expression in 179 genes to a youthful level. It moved them back to about 10 years. Let me repeat that. The genes got 10 years younger. That's impressive."
Biological aging, and eventually death, can be defined as "the changes in structures and functions of humans with the passage of time that does not result from disease or gross accidents." Tanner believes that under the right conditions, you can live indefinitely, as long as you can prevent or recover from biochemical, cellular and physical accidents.
Diet accounts for the majority, about 80 percent, of the health benefits you reap from a healthy lifestyle, but exercise is a crucial component and adjunct to a healthy diet. As Tanner states, exercise, and strength training in particular, from his point of view, is a force multiplier and the great leveraging agent. I couldn't agree more, although I believe that, overall, high-intensity interval training may give you even greater payoffs than strength training. Ideally, you'll want to incorporate both.
One of the Best Ways to Fight Osteoporosis
A recent article in Forbes magazine1 highlighted the benefits of strength training for the aging population, rightfully asserting that it plays a far more important role than aerobic exercise. As Tanner joked, what good is a healthy heart if you don't have the muscle strength and stability to get out of your chair? According to Forbes:
"[T]he average 30-35 year old person will experience roughly a 25 percent decline in his or her muscle strength and tone by the age of 70-75, and up to a 50 percent decline approaching the age of 90. Simply doing aerobic exercise such as walking or light treadmill workouts will not be adequate to preserve muscle tone, bone health, balance and posture. If you are not engaging in strength or resistance training, the chances are high that you will lose strength and become less functional as you age.
... Research has clearly shown that strength training can help to reduce the pace of bone loss, while some studies have demonstrated that such training can actually help to build bone... Movements and exercises that place stress on bones help to form additional calcium deposits and stimulate bone forming cells."
Weight-bearing exercise is one of the most effective remedies against osteoporosis. For example, a walking lunge exercise is a great way to build bone density in your hips, even without any additional weights. The last thing you want to consider is to take a drug to improve your bone density, as without question, that is more likely to cause long-term harm than benefit.
Weight Training IS Cardiovascular Training…
Research over the past several years has really revolutionized the way we look at exercise. Not only have researchers found that traditional aerobic exercise is one of the least effective forms of exercise, it's also one of the most time consuming, and could even be counterproductive. You're really getting the least amount of bang for your buck when you spend extended amounts of time running on a treadmill.
High intensity interval training on the other hand, has consistently risen to the top as the most effective and efficient form of exercise.
While the fitness industry divides exercise into categories such as anaerobic, aerobic and cardiovascular training, fitness experts like Dr. McGuff and Phil Campbell point out that in order to actually access your cardiovascular system, you have to perform mechanical work with your muscle. How you do that is up to you; you can do that on an elliptical machine, on weight training equipment, or using free-weights. So truly, weight training isn't just strength training, it's a cardiovascular workout. To better understand this, you need to know that your heart has two different metabolic processes:
- Aerobic, requires oxygen for fuel, and
- Anaerobic, does not require any oxygen
Traditional strength training and cardio exercises work primarily the aerobic process. High-intensity interval training, such as Peak Fitness, on the other hand, work your aerobic AND your anaerobic processes, which is what you need for optimal cardiovascular benefit. You're actually getting MORE benefits from high-intensity training than you do from aerobic/cardio, in a fraction of the time — all because you're utilizing your body as it was designed to be used. You can literally be done in about 20 minutes, compared to spending an hour running on the treadmill.
Similarly, you can turn any weight training routine into a high intensity routine by slowing it down. Besides Tanner, Dr. Doug McGuff is another proponent of Super-Slow strength training. You only need about 12 minutes of Super-Slow type strength training once a week to achieve the same growth hormone production as you would from 20 minutes of Peak Fitness sprints.
The key to make it work is intensity. The intensity needs to be high enough that you reach muscle fatigue. If you've selected the appropriate weight for your strength and fitness level, that would be somewhere in the neighborhood of just seven or eight repetitions. Furthermore, when the intensity is high, you can also decrease the frequency of your exercise. In fact, in order to continue to be productive, the higher your fitness level, the more you can decrease the frequency without losing benefits.
This is because, as a weak beginner, you can exercise three times a week and not put much stress on your system. But once your strength and endurance improves, each exercise session is placing an increasingly greater amount of stress on your body (as long as you keep pushing yourself to the max). At that point, you'll want to reduce the frequency of your sessions to give your body enough time to recover in between. To learn more, please see my previous interview with Dr. McGuff on his Super-Slow weight training recommendations.
Keep Yourself in Motion!
Optimal health is dependent on an active lifestyle; eating fresh, whole foods, avoiding as many processed foods as possible, exercising regularly, and addressing the stress in your life. Ignoring any of these basic tenets of health will eventually lead to a decline in health and any number of diseases.
Ideally, you'll want to include a variety of exercises for a well-rounded fitness regimen. Strength training is an important component as it's the number one way for you to remain strong, young, and independent well into old age, and what good is living long if you're too decrepit to enjoy it?