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The world's weather has gone haywire, hasn't it? And now we have giant Chinese balloons spying on us from overhead. What next!!
I've a theme to this week's newsletter, which is to explain how important it is to include strength training in your routine, and not overdose on cardio alone.
Research is consistent that resistance training without cardio is more effective than cardio without resistance training for longevity - see item #2.
There is only one way to reduce the loss of muscle mass as we age, and that is by resistance exercise. There is no pill - see item #1.
⭑ Loss of muscle mass predicts earlier death - you can rebuild this mass ✔
⭑ Strength training reduces the risks of metabolic syndrome ✔
⭑ How heavy should you lift? Guidelines for your barbell exercises
⭑ Take a breath - find your relaxed state and imprint it in your brain ✔
01 For Longevity, Muscle Strength May Be As Important As Aerobic Exercise
At the gym I see most people doing a lot of cardio - some, exclusively.
If you're doing lots of cardio because you hate strength exercises then keep going. If you are willing to add strength exercises to your routine because you want to improve your chances of living longer better, then now's the time to start.
Strength training delivers many benefits independent of aerobic exercises, such as increased strength and muscle mass, increased bone density, and a reduced risk of musculoskeletal injury, e.g. knee problems.
What is rarely appreciated is that doing strength exercises also really pushes your cardiovascular system. See my next item.
⇒ What I want to emphasise here is that reducing muscle loss as you age is crucial to maintaining your independence.
Strength training is the only option for this purpose. It also appears to positively affect brain health, perhaps decreasing the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
What this means for you: Strength training comes in many different forms. You should not be over-ambitious in your choice as that tends to lead to disappointment, injury, or just becomes too challenging to be motivating.
Bodyweight exercises are fine, and you can make them substantially more challenging by incorporating resistance bands. For example, banded push-ups, squats and overhead presses.
If you only have access to dumbells then incorporate these into your bodyweight exercise routine. For example, squats, overhead presses, sit-ups, and renegade rows.
Best of all - barbells. Add the standard lifts into a routine - deadlifts, squats, overhead presses, and bench presses. In my opinion, you don't even need bench presses as these are mainly vanity - do push-up variations instead.
Start with a bare bar, perfect your form, and progressively add weight over a considerable time. Do variations over a period of say a month - from higher reps with lower weights to heavier weights and lower reps. You will notice how much stronger you feel after about 6 months.
To avoid injury, it is well worth getting instruction, to start.
PS Kettlebells combine strength and cardio in a unique way, which delivers the optimum benefits of both. But I know that most people aren't keen on them. I use kettlebells plus bodyweight exercises, plus barbell lifts - not that I need to do all three, but I enjoy the different sensations.
Related: How To Go From On-knee to Full Pushups, and Reap The Benefits
02 Strength Beats Cardio for Living Longer Better - Research Report
You may find it surprising that strength exercises condition your cardiovascular system to a greater benefit than just cardio - in terms of decreased risk of metabolic syndrome.
That's the finding of many studies including this one, and this one which found that resistance training leads to improved glycemic control, lower body fat percentage, and lower blood lipid levels in adults who are at risk for type 2 diabetes (668 patients, published in Sports Medicine).
The first study I referenced above is one of many that have shown an association between resistance training and endothelial dilation (as measured by Flow-Mediated Dilatation). FMD is a measure of the diameter of an artery in response to blood flow.
Endothelial cells line the interior of our arteries and control the amount of blood flow through them. If they are in good health they stretch when your heart pumps more blood, and if not in good health they resist and dramatically raise blood pressure.
⇒ Research suggests that higher FMD is inversely associated with metabolic syndrome. That is, individuals with higher FMD are less likely to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome than those with lower FMD.
If left untreated, metabolic syndrome can have long-term effects on your health, leading to a higher risk of stroke, heart disease, and other serious health problems that can reduce your lifespan.
In a study of 429 adults, researchers found that those with lower FMD had a significantly higher risk of metabolic syndrome than those with higher FMD. In another study of 819 individuals, researchers found that those with higher FMD had a lower prevalence of metabolic syndrome than those with lower FMD.
What this means for you: Resistance training alone has been found to be beneficial in improving glycemic control, body fat percentage, and blood lipids in those at risk for diabetes, and, in lowering the risk of metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that increase your risk for serious health problems, such as stroke, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. These conditions include increased waist circumference, high triglyceride levels, low HDL cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar.
As we age, our risk for metabolic syndrome increases significantly. Exercise, particularly strength training, has been found to lower this risk compared to those not doing resistance exercises.
Important note! Gym machines were not designed for strength training and will not produce the results discussed above - they isolate specific muscles for accentuation and don't activate the same cardiovascular response. Compound movements are multi-joint exercises that activate several muscle groups simultaneously and require more energy than isolation exercises.
Check item #1 above for compound movement strength training suggestions.
Related: Measuring Your Waist Will Tell You If You Are On Your Way To Diabetes
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03 As We Age, How Much Strength Is Strong Enough? How Strong Are You? [Realistic Strength Standards For Busy People]
When thinking of strength training perhaps images of weightlifting championships flash through your mind. Those can be terrifying - knees snapping, lifters fainting under the bar or as they walk back from the lift. That's not encouraging you, right?
Good news. You do not need to lift at your limits to gain the substantial benefits of strength training with a barbell.
⇒ Here's what to expect of yourself - the sensible weight to lift.
By the way, elite powerlifters can deadlift between 2.0 to 2.5 times their own body weight. They can squat between 1.7 and 2.3 times their own body weight (the International Powerlifting Federation reports that the world record holder for squatting achieved 3.15 times). The all-time world record for the deadlift was set by Hendrick Thor in 2020, when he deadlifted an astonishing 1,033 pounds (469.4 kg), which is over 4 times his body weight of 250 lbs (113.4 kg).
You can achieve a lot by aiming for about 0.6 to 1.0 times your body weight, depending on your age and sex and the actual exercise.
What this means for you: Having a target based on your body weight is the most effective way to train and measure your progress with strength training. It is not like running 5km where just the time alone can be your guide irrespective of weight! Your body weight ratio is a perfect guide.
Here are recommendations for four major barbell exercises. When you reach this target you are doing well; it is then time to add more training variations rather than more weight:
- Back squat: Female 0.8X, Male 1X bodyweight (take 40% off for a front squat).
- Bench press: Female 0.6X, Male 0.75X.
- Deadlift: Female 1X, male 1X.
- Overhead press: Female 0.33X, Male 0.5X.
If you are highly conditioned, skilled and a long-time lifter, you could safely aim higher:
- Back squat: Female 1.3X, male 1.5X.
- Bench press: Female 0.9X, male 1.3X.
- Deadlift: Female 1.7X, Male 1.65X.
- Overhead press: Female 0.75X, male 0.85X.
If you consistently lift to the targets above you will put yourself way ahead of the average gym goer, and way ahead in setting yourself up to live better and longer.
Related: Holy Mackerel! Researchers Confirm Walnuts Help Your Muscles Stay Stronger Helping Live Longer
04 How To Develop Positive Awareness of Your Relaxed State
Our exercise of the week is... breathing! After all that talk of heavy lifting above I thought that you'd be too tired to do anything else :)
I use the 4-7-8 breathing method twice daily, to relax.
Compared to other relaxation breathing methods, the 4-7-8 method stands out for its ability to help you relax quickly, as well as its focus on conscious control of the breath, i.e. it helps to reduce anxiety and stress in a shorter period of time than many other methods.
The benefit I found to be most beneficial is that it develops your awareness of your relaxed state. If we are constantly busy we lose touch with what our relaxed state feels like.
Once you know your relaxed state and have built a memory of it to refer to, you can instantly recognise when something triggers a less relaxed state - generally labelled as anxiety.
By realising that a circumstance has moved you away from your relaxed state you can then respond more calmly and in control, with the result that you can moderate your reaction and lower your stress.
What this means for you: Here is how to perform the 4-7-8 breathing method:
- Sit in a comfortable position, with your back straight and feet flat on the floor.
- Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there throughout the exercise.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a “whoosh” sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale silently through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a “whoosh” sound to a count of eight.
- This completes one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle until feeling relaxed, perhaps 6 times.
Personally, I do it in bed when I wake up, and before I go to sleep, and I use the free Breathing Zone app. The app has the advantage of setting a time period - say 8 minutes - and setting a target breathing rate based on the 4-7-8 cycle, say 3.2 cycles per minute.
Give it a try, you've nothing to lose except your stress:)
Thanks for reading!
Related: How To Find Purpose In Your life Without Feeling Like You Are Endlessly Chasing Your Tail
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>> My Latest Blog Post: How Many Pistachios Should I Eat For Sleep and When?
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'4 Most Valuable' is a weekly newsletter from Walter Adamson. If you like it, please forward to a like-minded soul. Someone forward this to you? You can subscribe from this page.
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