Call it what you may muscle toning resistance training or just good old fashioned weight lifting but strength training may be the ultimate fountain of youth especially as we age. Whether performed with elastic bands exercise machines dumbbells and barbells or even no accoutrements or equipment at all but your own body weight strength training has been shown to be particularly beneficial in a variety of ways.
Specifically strength training is a type of physical exercise specializing in the use of resistance to induce muscular contraction which builds the strength anaerobic endurance and size of skeletal muscles. (Yes I'm actually citing Wikipedia. Go figure.)
Let's start by focusing on the elderly especially in light of the fact that physically this period of time is without a doubt the most vulnerable in a person's life (besides the newborn stage). Endorsing and advocating any lifestyle behaviors that support optimal health in this age group is essential to encouraging a high quality of life.
As we age the functional capacity of the neuromuscular cardiovascular and respiratory systems inexorably starts to diminish leading to an increased risk of vulnerability and frailty. Physical inactivity is one of the fundamental factors that contribute to the loss of muscular mass and functional capacity a key aspect in frailty. Science has shown however that strength training can counteract or at least slow this process. While it's certainly not rocket science to understand the benefits to the musculoskeletal system that this type of training can have in regards to elderly the results can be quite profound. In this population the improvement of functional capacity is a primary and desired goal as reflected by an increase in walking speed a greater capacity to be able to get up from chairs an improvement in test subjects balance and consequently a significant reduction in the incidence of falls and a significant improvement in muscle power and mass in the lower limbs. It appears however that in order to maximize functional adaptive capabilities and outcomes it is important that this age group be especially consistent in their training while putting forth maximum effort. This can be done rather safely as risk for injury is quite low.
An added benefit not normally attributed to strength training was examined in a recent study that determined that there is an association between muscle strength and risk for Alzheimer's disease. Scientists found that individuals who were stronger at the beginning of the study experienced a slower rate of cognitive decline. Another study supported the hypothesis that consistent resistance exercises combats cognitive decline in those that were already exhibiting its signs and symptoms prior to the study.
In addition to these obvious yet important health benefits weight training can have tangible benefits in other areas of physiology in the elderly. For instance strength training will help lower blood pressure in those suffering with hypertension. Those with the signs and symptoms of metabolic syndrome or who are diabetic find that resistance training can make them less insulin resistant modulating important hormones like adiponectin which helps modulate glucose regulation and fatty acid oxidation as well as IGF-1 ghrelin and leptin while also lowering cortisol levels all important aspects in the management of diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Other studies have demonstrated this training method has the ability to lower markers of inflammation and increase lean body mass while fending off the slow progression of sacropenia. Middle-aged men who participated in a weight training regimen for eight weeks enjoyed increases in anabolic hormone secretion and consequent promotion of health improved daily life and a delay of the negative effects of aging.
I'm personally convinced of the enormous potential benefits of consistent strength training as I consider it a true anti-aging methodology that can be performed by young and old alike with a minimum of adverse side effects.
Michael Fuhrman D.C.