If you still see strength training as an optional extra, not a health essential, science is finding more reasons to change your mind – including new research that suggests strong muscles are good medicine.
“One of the most compelling findings of recent years is that muscles are actually a huge secretory organ, and when we contract them hard enough to complete fatigue they release hormone-like chemicals that have a major influence on every system of the body,” says Rob Newton, Foundation Professor of Exercise and Sports Science at Western Australia’s Edith Cowan University.
The effects of these chemicals – called myokines – include reducing the low-level inflammation in the body thought to contribute to heart disease, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s – and possibly working as tumor suppressants.
“Some studies have found that extracting blood from exercising humans and adding it to cancer cells in test tubes slows the rate of cell reproduction,” he says. “In a study of mice, the growth of breast cancer cells was halted in mice that exercised, while the cancer continued developing in mice that were inactive.” This may be one reason why strength training appears to help reduce the risk of some cancers and improve survival in people with cancer.
“…strength training, also produces a surge of the hormone testosterone which helps sharpen thinking and memory,” he adds. Then there’s the effect of exercise on mitochondria, the little energy ‘factories’ in our cells. When you strength train, your body makes more mitochondria – and the more you have the more you can do. “But when you’re inactive, the numbers of mitochondria decline, so it gets harder to do things,” Newton explains. “If you become ill when you already have fewer mitochondria it’s harder to recover.“
Examples like these show why a strength-training habit is like a pill that boosts energy, strength and improves resistance to disease,” he says – and if we want to reduce the risk of inactivity-driven diseases like heart disease, diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s, we need a regular dose all the way from childhood to old age.
20 to 50 – Strength Training Boosts Performance
“Because these are peak years for building careers and families, time is often short – but strength training helps mind and body work better, improving productivity,” Newton says. “If you say, ‘I’ve got kids – there’s no time to exercise,’ it’s worth remembering that you won’t be much good for your kids if you have a heart attack.”
50 – 65 Disease-Proofing For Better Health
Strength training to build muscle mass will help stave off chronic diseases that can blight older age. “If you’re planning to travel in retirement, but get to 65 with problems like overweight, arthritis and muscle loss, it won’t be so much fun,” says Newton, stressing that building muscle and bone with strength training helps head off frailty further down the track. “Regular strength training also provides muscles with a built-in repair kit. It causes satellite cells attached to the outside of muscle cells to proliferate and donate nuclei to muscle tissue, allowing new cells to grow and repair – so even though you’re older, muscles are still strong and tuned for repair and growth. “Exercising muscle also helps control blood glucose levels – if you have low muscle mass you can’t control blood sugar levels so well and this increases diabetes risk.”
60 Plus – Getting With The Strength
“You’d think that the generation most likely to pick up weights are 20- or 30-somethings doing CrossFit, but strength training now has considerable traction with the over-60s,” says Newton. “It is essential to stay strong in order to reduce age-related decline and improve health. “The number one reason people go into dependent care is frailty – this is the age group with the most to lose if muscle strength dwindles, but a lot to gain if they can reverse muscle loss.“
SOMETIMES THE BEST MEDICINE DOESN’T COME IN A BOTTLE
At SIMPLY STRONG, we use an evidence-based exercise protocol designed to help our clients stay younger, stronger and healthier—in just 15 minutes a week. Up until recently, physical activity has been primarily viewed as a tool to balance energy intake with expenditure and bring about weight loss. There has been a paradigm shift with the new scientific breakthrough that identifies muscle as an endocrine organ secreting hormone-like molecules (myokines) to other organs of the body that promotes and protects health. Learning to quickly and safely exhaust muscles by slowly lifting and lowering weight stimulates the body to produce incredibly healthy changes. Building muscle, reducing body fat and up-regulating all organs of the body.
SIMPLY STRONG’s 15 minutes of hard, safe, slow-motion strength training is more effective than long-duration, low-intensity exercise. Your body doesn’t respond to how much exercise you do, it responds to the intensity and depth of your workouts. The SIMPLY STRONG training protocol delivers a profound stimulus to the body (in the safest, most effective and most time-efficient manner) that will cause the body to adapt and produce a response (growth and improvement).
It is never too late to build muscle mass, and as you age, it is the most important thing you can do. It can increase walking speed, leg strength and endurance, ensuring more flexibility and generally better overall health.