I once did 0 resistance training.
It was a sad time in my life (now that I look back at it).
Hindsight is 20/20 and I wish I could go back to myself in my teenage years and tell young Ryan to be hitting the weights.
Unfortunately we can’t change the past, and I am thankful that I eventually found a love for resistance training.
There was actually a time in the recent past where I would have said that cardio is superior to strength training. Now though, I would hands down choose resistance training over cardio any day of the week.
I was never “strong”. I did not have the gift of being able to move the same weight my peers could, so I think it made me shy away from resistance training when I probably should have leaned into it some more. It’s human nature to avoid the things we are not good at, so I’m not surprised I avoided it.
It wasn’t until I got into endurance sports that I started to learn the value of strength training. Anyone who does a lot of cardio eventually figures out that if they want to continue to progress in their endurance endeavors and avoid injury that you need to work on your strength. If they don’t figure that out then they most likely will have a very short endurance career.
The truth is that resistance training provides some unique adaptations to the body that not only benefit athletes, but the average individual looking to improve their body composition or live a healthy life for many years to come. As good as cardio can be for your health, it just can’t provide the health benefits resistance training can..
Where does resistance training shine?
Muscle and bones.
No form of exercise has the ability to improve your muscle and bone health like resistance training can.
Most people think of muscle from an aesthetic point of view. Yes, muscle can make you “look good”, but it’s more than that….much more than that.
In fact adding muscle for aesthetics is the last on the list of benefits of resistance training.
The fact is that muscle and bone health is your ticket to living a long healthy life. Of course it is no guarantee, but it’s a great insurance policy, particularly as you start to age.
What can resistance training prevent as we age?
Check out the chart below charting deaths from 2000-2015.
Want to guess what that chart is representing?
All of the above?
Nearly 60 per 10,000 people aged 65 and older that fell in 2015 died!
How can that be?
Lack of resistance training!
Now obviously I don’t expect someone who is 65 years old to be in the gym throwing weights around (although I think that is awesome if they are and something I am striving for personally!). However the situation in recent history has allowed us as humans to do less and less physical labor. Without any kind of stimulus to our body to keep our muscle mass around we start to lose it as we age. In addition, without challenging our muscles it does not load our skeleton and we not only lose muscle mass and strength but our bones get weaker.
This sets us up for a pretty bad situation once we reach our later years.
It means we are more likely to fall because our muscles, even the ones responsible for balance, have degraded to the point where we are unstable. When we do fall our bones are weak, so we are more likely to break a bone.
You might be saying “breaking a bone is bad, but not deadly.”
You are right, it’s not usually the fall that is deadly, it’s the recovery from the broken bone that is. It all comes down to declining overall health as we age. The older someone is the more likely they are to have existing medical conditions. In addition their bodies just don’t heal as well as they once did in their younger years.
In the worst case scenario breaking a bone may require surgery. When you are already compromised from a health point of view, as most elderly people are, your chance of surviving a surgery goes down.
If you survive the surgery, or if the breakage doesn’t require surgery, there is still a long road to recover. Older individuals are more likely to have to spend longer times in hospitals and long term care facilities after they break a bone. This means they are around a lot more sick people, and due to their compromised health, makes them more susceptible to infections, viruses, and colds. For a healthy young person, this might be no big deal, but for an older individual who is already compromised, these common illnesses can be deadly.
So what can we do to make sure we avoid a fall being fatal later in life?
Start resistance training now!
As we age it becomes harder and harder to both add muscle and strengthen our bones. The sooner we add resistance training into our lives the more muscle we can add and the better our bone health will be. That way when we get to the point where we inevitably start to lose muscle mass and our bone health declines we are starting from a higher place. In addition if we continue to resistance train continuously we can slow the decline so that the loss happens at a slower rate .
Resistance training not only keeps us from falling but has other impacts on our health as well.
The other problem with falling, breaking a bone, and ending up in the hospital is that the elderly usually have existing medical conditions. Many of these medical conditions are made worse by poor metabolic health and blood sugar regulation.
Muscle mass as it turns out is quite important in blood sugar regulation. When we eat carbohydrates we need to remove the resulting sugar in our blood. The body can remove it in two ways, it can burn it off or it can store it. In the storage case we can put it in a few different locations, the liver, your muscles, or body fat. You can’t grow your liver so that leaves your muscles and body fat. We want to avoid adding body fat so ideally we want to store as much in muscle as we possibly can.
Essentially adding muscle mass gives us a bigger storage depot for blood sugar. In addition the exercise needed to add muscle mass causes our body to burn more of it off in the process.
Resistance training therefore not only prevents the falls from occurring, but also helps prevent the medical conditions that leave us in an even more compromised state from a health perspective.
Resistance training is the key to longevity.
Here we can see the association between grip strength and risk of dying of any cause. As grip strength goes up, risk of dying decrease !
Now don’t run out and start hanging from a pull up bar and doing farmer’s carries in order to improve your grip strength thinking that’s the only thing you need to train in order to live a long time. Grip strength is just a proxy of having strength. Having an older individual squeeze something to test their strength is much safer than having them do a max deadlift.
Finally I think its important to also talk about resistance training and mental health. People often ask, “How do I stay mentally sharp as I age?”
From a resistance training perspective there is some evidence that has shown that muscle mass can help preserve our mental health .
I agree that the diagram above is quite complex. In essence what it boils down to is that muscle mass helps control inflammation, metabolic health, protein metabolism (adequate protein intake), and mitochondrial function (which is producing the energy for the brain). When all these things are affected negatively due to the decrease in muscle mass we can see a decline in mental health.
Resistance training has profound impacts no matter what your goals are, fat loss, looking good naked, mental health, or the ultimate goal, living as long as possible. Oh course we also need some cardiovascular fitness as well, and for more on that you can check out the series of posts where I cover its benefits as well as the various types. However, resistance training is the only form of exercise that’s going to add and maintain muscle mass and bone health so it is a must to include in your routine for all the reasons I have outlined in this post.
The trouble with resistance training is not really deciding what exercises to do, it’s finding the variations of those exercises that work for you and then finding the right amount and intensity of those exercises to support your goals. Over the next few posts I am going to try and decipher this problem and provide some direction for you so it does not seem so daunting. If you want to be the first to know when the next post is available be sure to sign up for my newsletter using the form below and I will email you when the next post is available.
- (2022, June 27). Strength training in elderly: An useful tool against sarcopenia. Retrieved October 18, 2022, from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fspor.2022.950949/full ↑
- (2017, June 1). Association of Grip Strength With Risk of All-Cause Mortality …. Retrieved October 19, 2022, from https://www.jamda.com/article/S1525-8610(17)30182-2/fulltext ↑
- (n.d.). Pathophysiological Mechanisms Explaining the Association …. Retrieved October 24, 2022, from https://academic.oup.com/biomedgerontology/article/77/10/1959/6602136 ↑