By Dr. Mercola
From birth to approximately 30, your muscles are growing in strength and size with little effort from you. However, once you're in your 30s you begin to experience sarcopenia, the natural loss of muscle mass and function.1 With inactivity you can lose as much as 5 percent of your muscle mass each decade after 30. This loss may speed up as you reach 65.
Only 23 percent of people over the age of 45 report meeting strength training recommendations.2 However, strength exercises are the most important type of exercise you need to stay strong and healthy as you age. Gaining and maintaining muscle strength is just one of the benefits. This form of exercise may help prevent osteoporosis, improve your balance and control, prevent injuries and improve your ability to perform day-to-day movements.
Strength exercises are an integral part of a well-rounded exercise program and are important for every age group, from children to seniors. Unfortunately, many ignore this aspect of exercise as they may believe a gym is required, or that strength training will create bulk. Intensity, not higher weights, can achieve beneficial changes on a molecular, chemical and hormonal level in your body that may help slow or prevent many of the diseases triggered by a sedentary lifestyle.
In fact, research has confirmed that exercise is one of the best preventive strategies you may use3 against many common diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.4 Recent research now demonstrates that strength training is vital to your longevity and could add years to your life.5
Strength Exercises May Reduce Risk of All-Cause Mortality
In one of the largest studies to compare mortality outcomes using different types of exercise, researchers discovered those who incorporated strength training in their routine experienced a 23 percent reduction in premature death from any cause and a 31 percent reduction in cancer-related death.6 Researchers from the University of Sydney studied over 80,000 adults and found that promoting muscular strength may be as important as aerobic activities.
Some find strength-based exercises more intimidating or less attractive as they seem more demanding or boring. Aerobic exercise has also been the focus of many studies, demonstrating they improve executive functioning7 and cardiovascular fitness,8 improving your endurance and stamina throughout the day. However, this featured study suggests strength exercises may reduce the risk of all-cause and cancer-related deaths.9
The World Health Organization's (WHO) Physical Activity Guidelines for adults 18 to 64 recommends 150 minutes of aerobic activity with at least two days of strength-based exercises each week.10 Lead author Emmanuel Stamatakis, Ph.D., believes public health authorities have neglected to stress the importance of strength exercises and misrepresented how active Australian citizens were as a nation.11
Stamatakis cites the Australian National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey as an example of the increased risk of disease from lack of activity Australians suffer.12 The report finds 53 percent of Australians are inactive. However, when strength-based exercise is factored into the evaluation, 85 percent of Australians fail to meet the WHO recommendations.
Stamatakis says,13 "Our message to date has just been to get moving but this study prompts a rethink about, when appropriate, expanding the kinds of exercise we are encouraging for long-term health and well-being." Researchers also found that simple body weight exercises that may be performed at home or in any setting, were as beneficial to your health as those done at the gym using weight equipment.
This means that simple exercises you do at home with your own body weight are all you need to enjoy the benefits of a strength-based program. Interestingly, the researchers also found that adhering strictly to WHO's strength promoting guidelines was associated with a reduction in cancer-related deaths, while adhering only to cardiovascular guidelines were not. However, engaging in both cardiovascular and strength-based exercises yielded the best results.14
Cardiovascular Workouts Benefit From Simple Strength Exercises
Strength-based exercises may also help improve your athletic performance and cardiovascular workouts. Whether you enjoy jogging, rowing, biking, hiking, climbing or any other of a number of cardiovascular pursuits, building a strong strength-based foundation may help to improve your performance and reduce your risks of injury.
Endurance athletes have found the integration of resistance training helps improve their overall performance better than classic plans that focus only on aerobic endurance training.15 However, you don't have to be an endurance athlete to enjoy the benefits to your personal program. In a study of elderly men and women, researchers found simple bicep curls and leg presses improved aerobic capacity in older adults.16
Strength training also has the added benefits of stabilizing your core muscles, those muscles around your abdomen and back, that provide balance and stability to your pelvis and lower back and help the muscles in your hips, abdomen and lower back to work in harmony. This helps prevent injury to your lower back and improves your overall balance, reducing the risk of falls, especially in older adults.17
Balance and coordination also helps improve posture and body mechanics.18 Poor posture may lead to upper back pain and an increased risk of falls. Strength training may also reduce your risk of osteoporosis and minimize the risk of fracture.19 An estimated 8 million women and 3 million men suffer with osteoporosis, responsible for more than 2 million fractures each year. The one-year mortality rate after a hip fracture may be up to 58 percent.20
Strength training also has psychological benefits, reducing the risk of depression21 and elevating your mood and self-esteem.22 Men and women enjoy the benefits of an improved body image and self-perception from toned muscles.
Resistance training also improves sleep quality23 necessary to repair your muscles after a good workout, as well as improving your overall health. Lack of sleep has been associated with high blood pressure, slowed reaction time, poor blood sugar control, decreased immune function and reduced memory or ability to learn.
Strength Training Has Antiaging Effects
In this short video, exercise physiologist Skyler Tanner24 discusses 10 biomarkers of aging over which you have control. These are measurements that demonstrate your functional age and not your chronological age, the age at which your body functions and not how old you are on the calendar. Tanner compares your lifestyle choices to compound interest.
In other words, the small changes you make today have large benefits in the years to come. Strength-based exercises have a powerful ability to help prevent cardiovascular disease, regulate glucose, reduce osteoporosis and when done correctly, can even be a cardiovascular workout. Each of these biomarkers of aging are positively affected by strength training and have a compelling effect on your longevity, health and aging.
Foods That Support Your Strength-Based Workouts
Your body also requires good nutrition to build strong muscles and enjoy the benefits of strength training. Some recommend increasing your protein intake drastically since muscle mass is built using protein. However, there's a vast difference between not enough and too much protein. In other words, like most things, too much of a good thing may do more harm than good.
Eating high amounts of protein may help reduce your appetite,25 help you shed pounds and slow the digestion of carbohydrates, thereby modulating your blood glucose levels.26 However, excess protein has powerful drawbacks as it stimulates a nutrient signaling pathway that plays a crucial role in the aging process and cancer formation. This is the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway, which inhibits regeneration and cellular and mitochondrial autophagy and instead promotes growth.
When you balance your protein intake to what is needed and used for your energy output, the mTOR pathway is largely inhibited. This means it minimizes your changes of cancer growth. Your body uses protein to build muscle, but you also need other nutrients to help build strength.27
Healthy fats help you feel fuller longer, digest slowly and are important fuel for your body. Fats in your diet help absorb vitamins, promote the availability of calcium and phosphorus and are needed to form the cellular membrane of all cells.28 Healthy fats can be consumed from virgin coconut oil, avocados, virgin olive oils, olives and small fish such as mackerel, herring and sardines.
• Whole food
Refined and processed foods sap your energy and deplete your nutrition as they are often high in carbohydrates, chemicals, additives, coloring and pesticides. High-quality, organically grown whole foods provide you with a balanced mix of nutrients your body needs to grow strong muscles.
Many exercise programs increase your risk of dehydration. Drinking plenty of fresh, pure water helps your body to remove waste products from metabolism and support muscle development.
The featured study found doing bodyweight exercises at home were enough to enjoy the benefits of strength-based exercises. Before I describe some simple exercises you can do at home, let's review some terminology:
- Repetitions: Also called reps, this is the number that represents one complete motion of an exercise. For instance, one pushup repetition is starting at the top, going down and coming back up. As you are performing each rep stay mindful of your form, body position and going through a full range of motion.
- Set: This is a group of reps. For instance, if you do three sets of 10 reps you'll do a total of 30 motions with a break between each 10.
How many reps you do in each set will depend on your current fitness level and your end goals. To build strength and bulk you'll want to do a lower number of reps per set with heavier weights. To improve your tone, aim for 10 to 12 reps using weight that feels difficult but not impossible by the end of the set.
Super-slow weight training is a method of high-intensity exercise that accesses the maximum number of filaments to produce the movement. Aim for one set of eight to 10 reps with weight that is impossible to lift on the last rep no matter how hard you try. There are powerful benefits to using super-slow strength training that I describe in my previous article, "Super-Slow Weight Training: The Muscle-Building Workout Hardly Anyone Uses."
Simple Strength Exercises for Anyone
Strength-based exercises do not have to be complex or require a gym in order to be beneficial. In fact, the participants in the featured study experienced benefits using pushups and situps. Many people steer clear of resistance training as they believe this type of work is just for bodybuilders. Once you've gotten past the idea the exercises are repetitive, boring, time-consuming or just for bodybuilders you'll discover a new world of exercise that is anything but boring.
Consider incorporating several different types of training to improve your fitness faster and have fun. As you read through these types of weight workouts, consider using Kaatsu training with those workouts that use added weights. Developed in Japan nearly 50 years ago, this is a type of training that utilizes lighter weights while restricting venous flow to the muscles. This combination results in greater strength with more reps using less weight.
There is compelling evidence this type of training increases growth hormone secretions and produces benefits without tissue damage that occurs with traditional high-intensity weight work. Read more about this process in my previous article, "Build Muscle Faster, Safer and Easier with Blood Flow Restriction Training."
Body weight exercises
These exercises have the benefit of being flexible, require no equipment or specific location and can be done on your schedule. They can be done at home, traveling or even at the office and include pushups, squats and planks.
These are inexpensive, portable and available at most department stores. They are small enough to fit next to your couch or chair so you can do a few shoulder presses, bicep curls and triceps extensions while you're watching your favorite show.
These are dense, cast-iron weights shaped like a cannon ball with a handle. You can achieve ballistic movement and swinging motions you can't get with traditional weights that work your core and upper back. Simple, repetitive movements build power in your legs, glutes, back, upper arm and chest.
These look like thick rubber bands you can use to get full range of motion through your arms and legs. They are inexpensive, lightweight and portable, making them excellent travel companions.
Medicine balls/exercise balls
These are dense heavy balls that look like kick balls and come in a variety of sizes. They can weigh from a couple of pounds to 150 pounds and are thrown, swung, caught or lifted.
These are simple and cheap weights you can make with an empty quart or gallon jug. A gallon jug weighs about 8 pounds filled with water and 13 pounds filled with sand. The benefit of these weights is that the weight is unstable and you must use smaller muscles not often engaged to stabilize the weight in use.
If you have access to a gym, these machines provide stability while lifting weights that you don't get with free weights. For a beginner, the machine increases your safety while you learn the technique of lifting weights as you can focus on lifting and not maintaining correct body form with an unstable weight.
Like there are dance classes or aerobic classes, your local gym likely offers strength classes that incorporate body weight exercises, kettle bells and hand weights. Water classes, Pilates and Bosu are other strength-based exercise options.
Rope climbing or rock wall climbing
There is a reason these have been a staple in military training for decades. They quickly build upper body strength and core stability. The exercise targets your arms, hands, shoulders, back and abs while developing coordination and agility.