March 19, 2013 in Exercise, Health, Lifestyle

Strength Training: Turning Back the Biological Clock

oversleepHow old can a human being live to become? That’s a complex question. There isn’t a simple set of criteria that determines how long you’ll be around to tickle your grandchildren and regale them with tales from your youth. I’ve seen a significant number of citations that put a ceiling on our longevity at ~120 years. That’s a long time.

If you live in North America, the chances of you getting even remotely close to 120 years of age are depressingly slim. North Americans spend the most on health care yet rank way down the list in longevity and quality of life. As discussed many times here at Living Intentionally, the problems are primarily those of diet and lifestyle. Garbage in, inactivity out is a sure-fire recipe for chronic illness.

Exercise comes in many flavours. Over the years, certain activities have become popular and were labelled as the panacea to cure what ails you. Depending on your age, you may very well have different ideas of what “good exercise” entails compared to somebody a generation older or younger. These days, exercise recommendations change at a fairly brisk pace.

I love running, but over the years I have come to understand that it presents some interesting problems. I’m not suggesting that running is bad for you; on the contrary, we evolved to run and run a lot. In fact, part of our metabolism has specifically evolved as a successful adaptation to ‘running down’ our prey to exhaustion. It is one of our evolutionary adaptations that made us excel as hunters.

The problem with endurance running is that it tends to place a high oxidative stress on the body’s systems. When we run extreme distances, we populate our body with free radicals, which cause cell damage and over time can cause RNA/DNA replication problems. Another issue is that the stress of extreme cardio training actually shortens our telomeres.

Telomeres are crucial to protecting our cell replication. Each replication cycle sees our telomeres shortened a certain amount. As opposed to running, strength training actually helps to protect these telomeres from shortening during cell replication. Moreover, strength training itself activates various metabolic pathways that improve the duration of cell life. The combination of increasing cell life and protecting against telomere shortening is powerful.

Recently, I’ve begun a regular practice of strength training. By “regular”, I mean twice or maybe three times per week. I don’t go overboard with the workout. My intention is not to bulk up significantly, but to work each muscle group thoroughly through its full range of motion. Importantly, I do my training in almost slow motion. The idea is that the slower you move, the more you work the muscles at that point. By going slowly, you can avoid the use of heavy weights and still push the muscles to the point of exhaustion. I’m generally done with a particular machine after only doing 3 sets of 3 repetitions.

If you do your strength training correctly, you’ll find that you’ll be tired, hot, sweaty and likely breathing heavily when you’re done. Contrary to a popular belief in the cardio training crowd, strength training really does work all your systems. By going in slow motion, you move quickly out of anaerobic work and into the realm of aerobic output.

If you have an hour to spare, please watch the embedded video about the health benefits of strength training. Skyler Tanner makes some impressive claims, even going so far as to say that a combination of an ideal diet and ideal workout regimen can effectively give one biological immortality. Interesting, yeah? Have a look!


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