Two recent studies published in the British Medical Journal (here and here) reveal that muscular strength is a remarkably strong predictor of mortality — even after adjusting for cardiovascular fitness and other health factors.
This conclusion was reached after an analysis of over 30 studies that recorded physical attributes such as bench press strength, grip strength, walking speed, chair rising speed, and standing balance. What the researchers found was that poor performance on any of the tests was associated with higher all-cause mortality — anywhere from a 1.67 to a threefold increase in the likelihood of earlier mortality. The study primarily looked at people over the age of 70, although five included people under 60; but across all ages, poor physical performance was associated with increased mortality. On average, people in the strongest quintile could look forward to a life expectancy six to seven years longer than those in the weakest quintile.
Now, here’s the good news: To a non-trivial degree, and despite the inexorable effects of aging, physical strength is an attribute we can control. As the science is increasingly showing, resistance training can literally add years to your life — and the earlier you get to it, the better.
Exercising is the single best thing you can do for your health and general well being. It makes you feel better and look better. Recent articles in the New England Journal of Medicine and Journal of the American Medical Association both noted the following benefits:
- Heart Health – People who are “usually inactive” run twice the risk of developing heart disease as compared to active counterparts. Failure to exercise increases the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, and hypercholesterolemia.
- Osteoporosis – Aerobics, weight training and other weight bearing exercise is vital to achieving optimal bone strength and avoiding osteoporosis.
- Weight Management – Regular aerobic exercise controls body fat as it burns the calories. Strength training builds the lean muscle tissue that burns calories ten times faster than fat tissue. This is true even is you’re sitting on the sofa.
- Mental And Emotional Health – A mountain of researches links good physical health and to good mental health. The endorphin production stimulated by exercise makes physically fit people feel better, and have a higher self-esteem.
- Exercise improves longevity by 22%, even for individuals who are only moderately active and improves insulin sensitivity for everyone.
A healthy heart is fundamental to overall fitness. No one can completely eliminate the effect of aging, heredity, or gender but most cardiovascular issues are amenable to lifestyle decisions anyone can make. If you have any of the following risk factors take prompt action: A history of diabetes, total cholesterol over 240 (or HDL less than 35 or LDL over 160), are completely sedentary, smoke more than 10 cigarettes/day, triglycerides over 400, blood pressure that is consistently over 140 systolic, or 90 diastolic, or are more than 30% overweight.
Maintaining a healthy weight is difficult for most people to achieve with dieting alone. In additional to healthy eating, weight management requires regular exercise. Start slowly, possibly one 10 minutes of walking a day, but keep at it and you’ll start going further. If you need to lose weight immediately, be realistic, and set an objective of losing just “one pound per week”. Over time, this will get the job done and the weight is more likely to stay off than if you go on a crash diet. Just keep in mind that 90% of successful dieters exercise.
Another simple approach to weight loss is don’t eat anything white – no white bread, no potatoes, no white rice, nothing white – works for most people.