Longevity and antiaging experts have long said that strength training is one of the best exercises you can do to increase your lifespan. A recent study has verified the positive impact strength and resistance training have on longevity.
An analysis published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that people who spent 30 to 60 minutes strength training each week had a 40% lower risk for premature death, 46% lower risk for heart disease, and a 28% lower risk for dying from cancer. This analysis of 16 studies, including nearly 480,000 people from 18 to 98 years of age, proved the value of strength training as we age. Other studies have found that combining strength training with aerobic activity can slash the risk of death from cancer and all causes by 30%.
Dr. Gabe Mirkin, author of The Healthy Heart Miracle, says that we lose muscle as we age but that the loss can be mitigated by strength and resistance training.
“Between 40 to 50 years of age, the average person loses more than 8% of their muscle size,” he says. “This loss increases to 15% per decade after age 75. Those who lose the most muscle are usually the least active, exercise the least, and are the ones who die earliest. Older people who lose the most muscle are four times more likely to be disabled, have difficulty walking, and need walkers and other mechanical devices to help them walk.”
Mirkin says that losing muscle strength increases our risk for diabetes, heart attack, and some cancers. A little-known fact is that the smaller the muscles in your arms, legs, and trunk, the smaller and weaker the upper and lower chambers of your heart.
“Every muscle in your body is made up of thousands of muscle fibers just as a rope is made up of many strands,” Mirkin explains. “Every muscle fiber is innervated by a single nerve fiber. With aging, you lose nerves, and when you lose a nerve attached to a muscle fiber, that muscle fiber is also lost. You cannot stop this loss of muscle fibers with aging, but you certainly can enlarge each muscle fiber and slow down the loss of strength by exercising muscles against progressive resistance using strength-training machines or by lifting weights.”
Always check with your healthcare practitioner before beginning any exercise program, says Mirkin, who offers helpful tips on weightlifting and strength training for the middle-aged and seniors.
“Beginners should start with a resistance or weight that they can comfortably lift and lower at least 10 times,” he said. “As soon as your exercising muscle start to fatigue, burn or feel tight, stop that exercise and move on to the next.”
Older people can reduce their risk of injuries by sticking to lighter weights and increasing the number of repetitions.