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Strength Training – The Fountain of Youth
In the 16th century, the famous explorer Ponce de Leone set out to discover the fountain of youth. Intent on finding an elixir that could magically restore vitality and vigor, he sailed far and wide in search of his dream. But as we all know, his search proved futile; there was no fountain of youth. Alas, poor Ponce died at age 61, looking his age.
Almost four hundred years later, people are still looking for a magic potion of youth and will pay almost anything for a product that promises to turn back the clock. Shameless marketers continue to capitalize on this frenzied desire, touting everything from bee pollen to rhino horn as youth-enhancing formulas. Unfortunately, these products are nothing more than snake oil and those tricked into buying them end up disappointed.
However, there is one tried and true remedy that can actually reverse the aging process: strength training. Yes, lifting weights is the answer to renewed vitality! Arguably, no other activity has a greater impact on your overall health and well-being. Of course, aerobic exercise is important. It conditions the cardiovascular system and helps speed up caloric expenditure. However, all things considered, nothing compares to the myriad of benefits that come from a dedicated strength training program.
Unfortunately, there are those who still believe that strength training is reserved for hard, polished bodies with bulging biceps and six-pack abs. Rest assured, though, that pumping iron isn’t just for bodybuilders—it’s for everyone. Regardless of your age or current physical condition, lifting weights will help improve your quality of life. If you’re not convinced of this fact, consider what strength training can do:
Increases strength: After the age of 35, sedentary individuals lose up to 1% of their muscle mass per year. As a result, your ability to perform everyday tasks such as lifting packages or moving furniture gradually decreases. As they grow older, simply getting out of bed can be a real chore. Doctors have called this condition sarcopenia: the progressive loss of muscle tissue. Weight training is the only activity that counteracts sarcopenia, helping to recover lost muscle and regenerate strength. Positive results are even seen in the elderly, regardless of previous training experience. Studies have shown that when sedentary nursing home patients (ages 80-90) are put on a structured weight lifting program, their strength levels increase by 50 percent in a matter of weeks! Therefore, dedicated strength training can help keep the golden years golden instead of waning.
Increases bone density: Healthy bones are often taken for granted. As with muscle, people lose up to one percent of their bone density a year after age 30, an amount that doubles during menopause. Eventually, this can lead to osteoporosis, a debilitating disease that causes bone tissue to deteriorate from the inside out. Osteoporosis is not uncommon, affecting more than 25 million people a year. In severe cases, the bones become so brittle that they can break with a simple sneeze! Only through regular weight-bearing exercise can bone loss be counteracted. By promoting the formation of new bone minerals, bone density gradually improves. Over time, osteoporosis can be completely reversed, resulting in strong, healthy bones.
Increases metabolism: Muscle is the most metabolically active body tissue. Studies show that for every pound of muscle your body burns an extra 50 calories a day at rest. To put that into perspective, by gaining just five pounds of muscle (a feat that can be accomplished in a few months of dedicated strength training), your caloric expenditure increases by 250 calories a day, seven days a week! By contrast, aerobics primarily burn calories during exercise. There is only a mild carryover effect and virtually no impact on resting metabolic rate. In fact, when calories are restricted, aerobics can cause the catabolism (breakdown) of muscle tissue, slowing the metabolic rate. All factors considered, the evidence is clear: strength training is even more beneficial than cardiovascular exercise for achieving long-term weight management.
Promotes better posture: Your posture says a lot about you. Poor posture causes you to hunch over, contributing to a tired and haggard appearance. This has a profound effect on how others perceive you and makes you look older than your years. Conversely, an erect posture projects a youthful exuberance that transcends your age. By standing tall, you project an aura of self-confidence that commands respect in both your professional and social endeavors. Fortunately, targeted strength training can do wonders for your posture. By focusing on the muscles of the shoulder girdle (teres major, rhomboids, trapezius, etc.), the scapula (shoulder blades) is stabilized and postural integrity is restored. With dedicated effort, other conditions such as lordosis (swayback) and kyphosis (hunchback) can also be improved.
Improves self-image: As the saying goes, “When you look good, you feel good.” Without a doubt, your appearance has a significant impact on your psyche. There is no better way to transform your body than through regular weight training. Although cardiovascular exercise can help shed excess body fat, it has almost no effect on muscle tone. Conversely, weight training helps shape your muscles, promoting a lean, sculpted physique that exudes sex appeal. Whether you’re young or old, thin or overweight, several months of pumping iron will make your body more aesthetically pleasing. Invariably, your self-esteem will improve, fostering renewed confidence in your abilities.
Reduces stress: Strength training can be very therapeutic. It provides an outlet for your aggressions, allowing you to channel stress and relieve anxiety. Also, as you work out, the brain begins to secrete endorphin opiate-like chemical messengers that promote an “exercise high.” Until recently, endorphins were thought to be associated only with cardiovascular exercise. However, recently published studies have shown that after a strength training session, endorphin levels increase by more than 60 percent. Hence, an intense weight training session will leave you feeling rejuvenated and even euphoric, keeping your mind free of problems.
Improves sports performance: Increasingly, people maintain an active lifestyle during their golden years. Golf, tennis, skiing and other activities are increasingly popular among the older sect. Whether you’re a weekend warrior or an aspiring pro, weight training is one of the best ways to increase athletic prowess. Virtually all athletic endeavors require a good degree of muscle strength, and specific training protocols can be developed to maximize this fact. By training in a sport-specific manner, significant improvements in performance can be seen.
Bottom line, if you’re not currently involved in a strength training program, start one today. Don’t wait! The sooner you start, the better off you’ll be. It is the closest we have to the fountain of youth. Remember it’s never too late to start.
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