Joseph F. McCaffrey MD, FACS

 

The Fountain of Youth is Made of Iron - the Link Between Strength and Longevity

Strength training yields many benefits. The most recently documented one is greater longevity.

Aerobic exercise (walking, jogging, bike riding and such) has long been the darling of the wellness folks. For years, these people wouldn’t consider lifting weights. They somehow thought they’d morph into a bodybuilding freak if they so much as touched a dumbbell. 

As if…

They also didn’t think that muscle mass and strength had much to do with health. More and more evidence shows the error in that way of thinking. A recent long-term study reported in the British Medical Journal adds to this body of evidence.

In this study, researchers followed 8,762 men between the ages of 20 and 82 years of age for an average of 18.9 years (as I said, this was a long-term study). 

When the men signed up for the study, their comprehensive evaluation included measuring upper and lower body strength as well as their performance on a treadmill.

Adjusting for age, the risk of death during course of the study was highest in the weakest men and lowest in the strongest. This difference persisted even when other factors such as lifestyle, family history and other medical conditions were allowed for.

The difference persisted even allowing for cardiovascular fitness. That is, the men who were both aerobically fit and strong did better than men who were equally fit aerobically but not as strong.

This ties in with a lot of other evidence supporting the importance of strength training.

It used to be taught that losing muscle mass and strength was an inevitable part of aging. We now know this isn’t the case at all.

Training with weights minimizes the strength loss that would otherwise occur.  Studies show resistance training benefits even nursing home residents.

The image of an ideal exercise program has shifted dramatically in the last decade. Gone are the long hours of repetitive aerobic exercise sessions at 60-80% of maximal heart rate. 

The new model rests on shorter, more intense, and highly varied exercise periods. It definitely includes resistance training. 

Body weight exercises such as squats and pushups are a great beginning. The “use it or lose it” maxim definitely applies to muscle mass and strength.

Reference

BMJ. 2008; 337:a349

 

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