Anti-Aging Benefits of Strength Training
Research from the Penn State College of Medicine, the University of Sydney, and Columbia University has determined that regular strength training has major benefits for longevity.
Moving naturally is an integral part of a Blue Zones lifestyle. Most centenarians did not belong to gyms, run marathons, or pump iron. Instead, natural movement like walking to work and climbing stairs and working their muscles by doing manual labor like gardening and household chores were built into their daily lives. Unfortunately for most of us, natural movement has been engineered out of our lives. The below advice from Marilynn Preston has some good ideas for those looking to start doing some weight-bearing exercise.
Marilynn Preston spent 40 years as a journalist, with 18 years at the Chicago Tribune. She has been a regular commentator on NPR and PBS and is the founding chair of Girls in the Game, a non-profit that helps girls get the support they need to become strong, healthy women. This is adapted from Preston’s latest book, All Is Well: The Art (And Science) of Personal Well-Being, and takes a look at how to make healthy lifestyle changes and what you need to know to make positive changes in your life.
There are good reasons for strength training beyond looking good in a bikini. Strong bodies are linked to strong minds. Strength training builds confidence, muscle and healthy tissue. It’s also good for stable joints, injury prevention and weight loss. And yet—slugs that we are— fewer than 25 percent of Americans over the age of 45 work with weights or do strength training on a regular basis. A whole lot fewer, I’m guessing.
Blame it on our sedentary lifestyles. The heaviest thing most of us lift is our laptop. Nothing we do requires us to raise our arms over our heads. So for all those reasons and a superset more, here are eight strength-training truths to consider—as you decide how and when you’ll get started:
There’s no age limit.
Little kids have to wait until their bodies and bones are strong enough to take the stresses of weight training, but the rest of us can start where we are, and can expect to see big improvements over time. The body is magnificent that way. People in their 90s are pumping iron and getting stronger, and so will you, once you understand the basics.
Technique is everything.
This is a weighty matter, because if you don’t learn to lift consciously, with awareness of your breath, posture, core, and limitations, you can strain a muscle or tear a tendon. Find an evolved teacher/trainer, or teach yourself from books or online videos.
Lift heavier weights.
You won’t get stronger lifting the same five- or ten-pound weight day after day, rep after rep. For your muscles to grow stronger, you need to challenge them—gradually, over time—with heavier weights. The “right” amount of weight will always vary, but this principle remains the same: You should be able to do ten or so reps with perfect form, with the last two being a real struggle.
In or out of the gym.
Both will build strength. Using machines in a gym usually come with a price tag. Free weights speak for themselves: anytime, anywhere. Machines have a limited range of motion; free weights have infinite possibilities. Both can work if you work, intensely, consistently, thoughtfully, with proper attention paid to form and breathing. Body-weight exercises—squats, pushups, lunges—should also be part of your routine, which is why it’s smart to consult with someone knowledgeable when you’re first starting. (Lifting your body weight in yoga builds strength, too!)
It’s called DOMS—delayed onset muscle soreness—and it’s what you can expect after a good workout. Pain is different. “No pain, no gain” is no way to approach a sustainable strength-training practice. If your trainer thinks otherwise, find one with a bigger brain.
Know your body.
Spend a little time looking at anatomical drawings so you’ll know your kidney from your colon, your patella from your pubic bone. Developing better body awareness will help you create and execute a balanced workout: front to back, side to side, pushing and pulling, expanding and contracting.
A 20-minute workout can be just as good as a 40-minute workout, if you know what you’re doing and why. Compound movements, for example—a bicep curl combined with a lunge—will give you twice the benefit in half the time. So will super-slow lifting and high-intensity interval training. Again, study up and experiment until you find a routine that sparks joy. If you manage to do it two or three times a week, over time your body will change in remarkable ways, unless you celebrate every workout with two granola bars and three beers.
Use it or lose it.
It’s an inconvenient truth that as we age, we lose muscle and grow weak unless we make the effort to stay strong, flexible, agile, and juiced. It’s about working with what you’ve got for as long as you’ve got, and being grateful in between.
“Humans evolved as a species that walks, runs, climbs trees and hills, and uses a variety of muscles all the time. Now people use elevators and escalators instead of stairs, drive instead of walk, use dishwashers and washing machines instead of washing dishes and clothes by hand, buy food instead of growing it, and hire people to do even minor repair work around the house instead of fixing things ourselves.”—Dr. Valter Longo