Strength training… the ultimate fountain of youth!
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 wasn’t 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! We’ve 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 Centre on Ageing at Tufts University, the single most critical step not only to retard, but also to reverse, the ageing process, is strength-training exercise. Dr. Evans states: “Much of what we call ageing 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: “It’s 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 institutionalised simply because they can barely get up and move about let alone care for themselves.
As sad as all this may be, it’s even sadder when you realise 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.
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. Don’t expect an active lifestyle to save you. Strength training and only strength training gets the job done.
Remember – there are two pains in life, the pain of discipline and the pain of regret – which one will you choose?