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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Can Pumping Iron Extend Your Life?

Several recent studies point to the same conclusion: Weight training can help you live longer.

Maybe you were a weightlifter, way back when. Or you used to do pushups and sit-ups … but that was a long time ago. Now, you keep fit with a daily walk or bike ride. That’s enough, right?

Fitness professionals and health workers know that whether you’re in your teens or 80 years old, strength exercises are crucial. They help build muscle and bone mass, and research has found that they not only help you live better, but longer.

Strength Training is Essential

"Strength training isn't necessarily the first thing that pops into people's mind when they think about activities they should be doing when they're older," says Dr. Jennifer Kraschnewski, an associate professor of medicine, pediatrics and public health sciences at the Penn State College of Medicine. "But the truth is that very good evidence [is available] to show that 80-year-olds are just as able to improve their muscle mass as 50-year-olds. And this can be done reliably over a very short period of time – something as short as two to three months."

Kraschnewski led a large study, published in the journal Preventive Medicine, that followed more than 30,000 adults aged 65 and up. Data from a National Health Interview survey found a little less than 10 percent met the standard of at least two sessions of strength training per week, whether it was from lifting weights, using machines in the gym or performing calisthenics. Over a period of 15 years, participants who reported meeting the guidelines had a 46 percent lower chance of dying from any cause, including cardiovascular disease and cancer, than the rest of the group.

Other research supports the findings. Strength training is correlated with a reduced risk of death for groups ranging from those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to women, according to studies published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Blood sugar regulation is enhanced when muscles get bigger, which helps to clear out excess glucose, decreasing your risk of diabetes. Larger muscles also help your body reduce inflammation, and then there’s the increased stability, strength and balance that lower your risk of falling.

Seven Benefits of Strength Training

There’s a reason weight training is so good for you. In fact, there are seven of them!

  • It increases your metabolic rate. Your body uses more calories all day long when it has more muscle mass. A pound of muscle burns an extra 50 calories a day when it’s just resting.
  • It makes bone mineral denser. Although your bones don’t increase in size with strength training, they do become denser to help fight off osteoporosis.
  • It builds muscle. A study of people who lifted weights for 25 minutes a day, three times a week, showed a gain of up to three pounds of muscle mass in just eight weeks. 
  • It makes you feel better. Hormones and neurochemicals get released that trigger feelings of happiness. Endorphins, adrenaline and dopamine help fight stress, too.
  • It decreases muscle loss. Normal aging results in the loss of about a pound of muscle a year from the time you turn 30, but strength training counteracts this phenomenon.
  • It prevents a reduction in metabolic rate. Resting metabolic rates don’t dip when muscle mass is increased. Muscles need more calories for fuel, instead of your body storing them as fat.
  • It spurs glucose metabolism. Regular weight training can bump glucose metabolism by 23 percent, lowering the odds for adult onset diabetes.

Short Sessions Get the Job Done

So, how much time are we looking at here? Do you have to go to the gym? Never learned how to use free weights? Don’t know what a free weight is? Patience, grasshopper, it’s not hard to get started. First, the time commitment.

"Typically, two to three exercise sessions a week for 20 to 30 minutes are enough for most people to develop results," said Kraschnewski. "Our studies have demonstrated older adults can double their strength in just 12 weeks."

That’s what you wanted to hear! It’s always a good idea to have a chat with your doctor before you start exercising, by the way, but we’re not talking about marathon sessions to get results. You don’t have to use weights, either.

You’ve Got Options

"In general, there are safe exercises for everyone, but it may require tailoring for your specific conditions," Kraschnewski said. "Strength training can be done at home and many exercises don't actually require equipment."

Yep, that’s right. Pushups, sit-ups and leg squats all use your own body weight to force your muscles to grow. Remember Jack LaLanne? Check out LaLanne’s old show on YouTube. The man could make a jumpsuit look good, and he taught exercises using nothing but the furniture you have at home. By the way, he was three years shy of 100 when he died in 2011.

Another idea is to use resistance bands in your home-based program. They resemble giant rubber bands and up your effort level when you push or pull to stretch them out. Yoga is another way to get in a strength workout.

But don’t rule out the gym, either. Consider getting a coach to create a routine that will give you the most benefit. Many gyms will instruct you on how to use their equipment so you feel comfortable. Free weights, which are dumbbells and other weights not attached to an apparatus, are great for balance and strength but do require more technique. YouTube videos and mirrors can provide backup to a good instructor.

The main thing is to get started. "Older adults have the ability to achieve strength similar to those decades younger by engaging in simple strength training routines," Kraschnewski said.

Remember that you can’t keep lifting the same weight and expect to get stronger. The goal is to gradually move up to heavier weights, and add repetitions, varying your workout. Here’s a tutorial on how to get started.  If you like his Beast Mode t-shirt, you can get one here.

Finally, expect some soreness. It’s what happens after a good workout, and it means that your muscles got the message they need to bulk up. Pain from an injury is a different matter. A torn ligament can set you back for months. That’s why form is so important.

Combined with regular aerobic exercise, strength training can help you live a longer, fuller life that is active to the end.

Click below for the other articles in the October 2018 Senior Spirit