As I lay on the floor, gasping for air, after an intense 40 minute workout, I start wondering if lifting heavy weights is getting easier or harder as I age? Well at first glance it would appear logical to assume that it gets harder! What do you think?
Well, I can’t answer for you but once I recover my breath, stretch, shower and replenish with some nutritious food, I immediately feel empowered with a force field of energy that runs from head to toe, through every single cell of my body. This superhuman feeling not only elevates my physical body but also coats my brain with joy and happiness. Is this the secret to staying young? Or simply one of the most potent tactics for defying age.
So if you want to know why lifting heavy weights makes you younger, just keep on reading!
As we age, our muscles become smaller and weaker via a process called sarcopenia. Research shows that this decline happens in our muscle’s mitochondria, the primary producer of energy in our body.
Did you know that in every cell of our body there are hundreds or thousands of mitochondria? They exist in greater quantities in the most active organs and tissues (muscles, heart and brain) and the reason we age faster derives from the constant injuries and damage inflicted to the mitochondria. Chronic stress, lack of sleep, poor eating choices, lack of exercise (particularly strength training), alcohol, tobacco, and exposure to pollutants are just a few examples of how our lifestyle can influence the function of these small structures.
Beyond that, a 2007 study demonstrated that 6 months of lifting heavy weights, made the gene expression of ageing mitochondria appear to be significantly younger. Yes, you read that right when it comes to the mitochondria, strength training can reverse nearly forty years of ageing. The benefits of lifting heavy weights don’t stop at the mitochondria, it promotes the growth of fat burning fast-twitch muscle fibres and even protects the DNA’s end caps, the telomeres, from the wear and tear of ageing.
Research shows that telomere decreases in length with age. No surprise there! But both women and men who have been physically active had longer telomere than subjects ten years younger. And in yet another study, researchers reported that “ remarkably, the increase in type II muscle fibres doesn’t just allow you to pick heavier stuff and better equip you to deal with life’s physical challenges but also are extremely important in controlling the whole-body metabolism. Still not convinced?
According to research by the University of Michigan, having strong muscles has a direct effect on how long you live and that it’s your hand strength that’s most important. The researchers found that handgrip strength declines as we age. I cannot stress enough the importance of our hands and especially how strong they are, when it comes to living independently, longevity, health, survival and coping with our daily tasks. Good handgrip strength is so valuable for all those tasks, like cooking, picking up the shopping, holding on to a railing for safety or even for preventing a fall.
There are more good reasons for strength training beyond looking good. Strong bodies are linked to strong minds. Lifting heavy weights also builds confidence, muscle, and healthy tissue. It’s also good for stable joints, injury prevention and weight loss. Sounds impressive right?
Here is the most important part! With as little as 2 non-consecutive days a week of strength training, you will get all the benefits that we spoke about.
Simple guidelines to get you started lifting heavy weights!
1- The reality is you don’t need to go to a gym to work out your muscles. In fact, this can be done from home, your garden, a nearby park, etc. You don’t need expensive equipment, although I have found an adjustable set of home dumbbells to be a great investment, especially during these recent stay-at-home months. If you are not prepared to invest in a set of kettlebells or dumbbells, no problem, simple bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, burpees, squats, sit-ups, and planks can be just as effective for strength training. I have personally invested in a set of kettlebells, from 6kg to 20kg, as I consider them to be more versatile than dumbells.
2– Overall, a great formula to maximize health and longevity is to exercise 6 days per week. Do aerobic exercise on 4 of those days, for just 30 minutes per day at a moderate intensity. Do strength training on your other 2 days, lifting weights or doing bodyweight exercises. My aerobic workouts these days include a rotation of walking, swimming, cycling, hill walking, and yoga. My strength training consists of one home weightlifting session and one bodyweight workout per week. In addition to the long-term health benefits, I find strength training improves my mood and confidence on a daily basis.
3-Not too much and not too little.! You won’t get stronger lifting the same five- or ten-pound weight day after day, rep after rep. For your muscles to grow stronger, you need to challenge them — gradually, over time — with heavier weights. The “right” amount of weight will always vary, but this principle remains the same: You should be able to do ten or so reps with perfect form, with the last two being a real struggle.
4– Your workouts should include an upper-body push ( overhead press, push-ups, chest ups), an upper-body pull ( bent or upright row, pull-ups, lat pull-ups), a lower-body push ( leg press, squats, lunges) and finally a lower-body pull ( deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, lower back extensions)
5- Learn to lift heavy weights consciously, with an awareness of your breath, posture, core and limitations, so you avoid muscle strain, tendon tear or any other injury. If you are new to it, get a trainer, or teach yourself from books or videos.
6- Expect to be sore! It’s called DOMS — delayed onset muscle soreness — and it’s what you can expect after a good workout. Pain is different. “No pain, no gain” is no way to approach a sustainable strength-training practice.
7- Be efficient! 20 to 40-minute workout should be sufficient if you know what you are doing and why. A good idea is to compound movements to maximise your time. Alternate between super slow training and high-intensity interval training, use blood flow restriction bands too.
8- Add more movement! This isn’t just about doing more push-ups, lifting heavy weights and bodyweight squats. Because in the end, this is about adding more complex and difficult movements that help you in your daily activities. For example, try all 52 ways to get up off the floor.
This is why I keep lifting heavy weights!
The simple truth is that as we age, we lose muscle and grow weaker unless we make an effort to stay strong, flexible, agile and energised. We know now that lifting heavy weights can reverse ageing at the molecular level. My message is that we need to understand the immense value that exercising ( strength training ) has on our longevity. It’s within our power!
So what’s the catch! Why isn’t everybody tapping into this eternal fountain of youth? Well my friends, simply because for those benefits to occur, one needs to put hard work, time, commitment and dedication. I am now 55, and sometimes feel like I am 35, physically and mentally and I intend to push my limits even further and reach my 100th birthday still happy to be lifting heavy weights.
Take care my friends, until next week.