Strength Training — The Real Fountain of Youth


By Tim Ryan

Copyright 1998


Not too long ago anyone who dared to exercise with weights was labeled a kook. These people were often ridiculed by society and forced to perform their weight lifting exercise in secret lest family and friends scorn them.


Over time exercising with weights (strength training), slowly gained a measure of respect and was thought beneficial for some specific objectives such as athletic conditioning. However, doctors and health specialists were quick to tell us that it really wasnÕt necessary for average people who were just looking to be healthy and fit. Aerobic exercise, they said, was much more important and the key to good health and true fitness.


Boy are times a changing! WeÕve almost come full circle. Now doctors are not only giving strength training its long overdue recognition as an essential activity necessary for total fitness and good health, many are rightfully elevating it to a stature above aerobic activity. We now know that strength-training exercise is an absolute necessity for all adults. Any adult who is not performing strength training properly and regularly is getting older faster than they should.


According to Dr. William Evans of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, the single most critical step not only to retard, but also to reverse, the aging process, is strength-training exercise. Dr. Evans states: "Much of what we call aging is nothing more than the accumulation of a lifetime of inactivity. Muscles shrink. Body fat increases. The results are an increased risk of diabetes, hypertension, and osteoporosis." He further explains: "ItÕs changes in muscle mass that trigger all the other changes. By preserving muscle mass we can prevent these problems from occurring."


Beginning at conception and continuing up to the age of about 25, the approximate time we reach our peak physical maturity, our bodies are continually growing and developing. During this time muscles grow stronger even without specific exercise. Normal growth and physical activity is enough to maintain our muscle mass and strength.


However, after this point of peak physical development, if the body does not receive the necessary stimulus triggering it to maintain muscle mass and strength, there begins a slow process of muscle atrophy (wasting). This loss of muscle tissue directly and indirectly causes nearly all of the so-called age related declines in physical capacity and appearance. Muscles become weaker and less enduring; bones become weaker and less dense; our metabolism slows down; fat begins to accumulate; our bodies become softer; our shape changes as shoulders narrow and the midsection widens; and our posture begins towards the slumped over attitude of the elderly. By age sixty or so these undesirable changes occur more rapidly. Many people become so profoundly weak that they have to be institutionalized simply because they can barely get up and move about let alone care for themselves.


As sad as all this may be, itÕs even sadder when you realize that anyone who is ravaged by these devastating changes is undergoing them unnecessarily. Barring some unavoidable disease or accident, anyone who ends up in this pitiful condition has done so by choice. Though they may not have elected to be this way, they did elect not to be this way. Had they cared for their bodies through proper strength training their condition would be quite different.


Research performed over the past decade has demonstrated unequivocally that strength training can prevent and reverse muscle atrophy and its negative consequences. Most importantly, this research has proven that you are never too old to benefit from strength training. Studies performed on eighty to ninety year olds showed that significant increases in strength and muscle mass are possible even at an advanced age. Individuals who once depended upon canes, walkers, and wheel chairs to help them get up and out of chairs and/or move about no longer required these devices.


The National Academy of Sciences estimates that if we can postpone institutionalization of the average elderly person by just one month it would save three billion dollars in Medicare and Medicaid. This savings does not even consider the savings in dignity and independence for these people.


Stop to consider for a moment how devastating it must be for a once vibrant, energetic individual to face the prospect of living out their years confined to a nursing home. There is not much dignity in life when you canÕt get out of a chair alone or even go to the restroom alone and need assistance dressing yourself and bathing. If it tears you up inside to see your friends and loved ones in this condition, now picture yourself in this situation. If you donÕt strength train, youÕll end up in the same boat.


It is also extremely important to understand that no other form of exercise or physical activity is capable of preventing this age related loss of muscle tissue. Researchers have discovered that even very high levels of aerobic activity fail to stop muscle loss. World-class marathoners and triathletes test out no stronger and have no more muscle mass than their sedentary counterparts. DonÕt expect an active lifestyle to save you. Strength training and only strength training gets the job done.


If it required hour-long strength training sessions performed every day to stay strong and prevent the ravages of aging it would certainly be worth it in my opinion. But, the best news of all may be the fact that far from requiring an hour per day, proper strength training requires less than an hour per week! Maximum strength gains can be produced with as little as two, 20 – minute sessions per week. As you become more advanced, only one, and 20 – minute session is necessary. With so much at stake and such a small price to pay to obtain benefits, there is no reason not to strength train.


Remember — there are two pains in life, the pain of discipline and the pain of regret — which one will you choose?