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Do it or die: Mrs. Mercola, 76-year-old, on YouTube

National Survey Shows 46% Longevity Benefit from Strength Training

Dr. Joseph Mercola’s mom was more correct than she knew saying that strength training is do or die for seniors. With three years of strength training under her belt—and the usual period of adjustment—she feels good and enjoys her new found strength and mobility. She'll feel even better when she hears about an exciting new finding on strength training and longevity.

We'll begin with some developments leading up to and relating to the encouraging new finding. We'll also have more about Mrs. Mercola's training after we delve into the study.

“The areas of medicine and public health are slowly coming around to the prime importance of strength and muscle mass for quality of life and longevity,” health psychology researcher—and lifetime strength trainer—Dr. Richard Winett wrote recently.

That’s the gist of what we told L. Patrick James, MD, Chief Clinical Officer at Quest Diagnostics, who was in Albuquerque last month for a meeting with Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Mexico. Dr. James, a lifelong exerciser, wrote earlier asking us to join him for lunch. He had read our book Take Charge and was impressed by the clarity and reliance on evidence-based research.

His medical team is responsible for the wellness of their 45,000 employees and 20,000 dependents.

Carol and I found Dr. James very down to earth and personable—and a good listener. He asked for our thoughts on wellness and let us talk, commenting or asking questions from time to time. (We feel like we’ve made a valuable friend who shares our passion for active living and wellness.)

We led off with the rising recognition of strength training in recent years. 

We noted the historic upgrade from the time when strength training was thought to be largely cosmetic to 2007 when the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association issued joint guidelines recommending that all adults strength train at least twice a week. Still, the benefits of strength training were thought to be limited to body composition, strength, and physical function.

That may be changing.  

Among other newly recognized benefits of muscle mass and strength, we zeroed in on the groundbreaking new study reported online in Preventive Medicine on February 24, 2016.

 Strength Training Keeps Us Young

Photo of Clarence at 75 by Pat Berrett

Many studies have found that regular exercise is associated with a better quality of life and a lower risk of death. What distinguishes this study is the large, nationwide data base and the focus on physical activity designed to strengthen your muscles, such as lifting weights or calisthenics—and controlling for other types of leisure time physical activity. The study set apart every-day physical activities and cardiorespiratory exercise--and strength training.

The study provides strong evidence that strength training in older adults is beneficial beyond improving muscle strength and physical function.

The researchers took data from the 1997-2001 National Health Interview Survey and linked to death certificate data in the National Death Index. The sample included 30,000 people over 65 from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The death certificate data ran through 2011.

During the 15 year study period, 9.6% reported doing strength training at least twice a week. (Disappointing but higher than anticipated) A total of 31.6% died.

Here’s the eye opener: Those meeting the strength training recommendations had 46% lower odds of all-cause mortality than those who were non-compliant or reported other types of physical activity. Amazing.

“Therefore, older adults who perform strength training activities not only improve their physical functioning as previously demonstrated…but their survival rate as well,” the researchers reported. The strength trained individuals were not only stronger--they also had more vitality.

“We need to identify more ways that we can help get people engaged in strength training so we can increase the number from just under 10 percent to a much higher percentage of our adults who are engaged in these activities,” lead researcher Jennifer Kraschnewski (assistant professor of medicine and public health sciences at Penn State College of Medicine) added enthusiastically.

“When the relatively newly found cardiometabolic benefits of resistance training are added to the well-known benefits of resistance training on strength and body composition, and now the finding on reducing the risk for premature death, it is hardly an overstatement to say that resistance training is one of the very best, if not, the best, activities we can do for our health,” Dr. Winett wrote in the June, 2016, issue of his Master Trainer newsletter.

We’ve come a long way from the time when strength training was thought to be as superficial as a new paint job would be on a car that needed an engine overhaul.

*  *  *

An earlier study suggests a pathway by which strength training can impact aging. A key portion of the decline that comes with age occurs in a component of muscle cells called the mitochondria, the principle engine of energy production. Melov et al found that strength training twice a week for six months was associated with a change in the genetic footprint of muscle mitochondria equivalent to almost 40 years of aging. 

Biopsies showed “a remarkable reversal of the expression profile of 179 genes associated with age and exercise training,” the researchers wrote. “Genes that were down-regulated with age were correspondingly up-regulated with exercise, while genes that were up-regulated with age, were down-regulated with exercise.” http://www.cbass.com/Mitochondria.htm 

Another pathway may be the fast-twitch muscle fibers, which typically decline with age and are restored and preserved by strength training.

The bottom line is that strength training can have a positive effect on all aspects of the neuromuscular and biochemical decline that accompanies aging. See my commentary on Bending the Aging Curve: http://www.cbass.com/BendingTheAgingCurve.htm

*  *  *

The strength training routine designed for Mrs. Mercola (see below) suggests that a simple routine produces substantial results—and progress is the best motivator. With a little counseling, instruction and follow-up, employers can have their associates and dependents challenging their muscles regularly and enjoying it—another requisite for success.

Not everyone will want to do strength training right away. For these individuals, anything that gets them moving regularly will have benefits. The key is to find something that the person enjoys and is willing to keep doing. Every sedentary individual that becomes physically active—in any way—would bring added health and happiness and fewer medical costs.

The sky is the limit. Each success leads to more success. Start with what’s right for you and add elements when you feel ready. Pretty soon you’ll be ready to add some form of strength training once or twice a week. When you begin to feel stronger your motivation will grow as well.

Take your time--don’t rush the process--and nothing can stop you.

Exercise is medicine and you can be your own prescribing doctor. Do what appeals to you and leave the rest. Regularity is the key. Get started doing something you enjoy--and don't stop.

Here’s to strength training—and other forms of exercise leading up to it!

* *  *

See Mrs. Mercola discussing and doing her strength training routine: http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2016/09/09/exercises-for-seniors.aspx?utm_source=dnl&utm_medium=email&utm_content=art1&utm_campaign=20160909Z1&et_cid=DM116010&et_rid=1658202403 (Scroll down)

More about Dr. James: http://www.missourihealthconnection.org/l-patrick-james-md

October 1, 2016.

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