Want to know how to reverse nearly 40 years of aging?
Lift heavy stuff.
That’s right. In the study “Resistance Exercise Reverses Aging in Human Skeletal Muscle”, it was proven that six months of progressive resistance training, AKA weight training that gets heavier over time, AKA “lifting heavy stuff” made the gene expression pattern of aging mitochondria become significantly younger.
See, muscles can become smaller and weaker with age (a process known as sarcopenia), and evidence suggests that a key part of the decline occurs in this mitochondria, a component of muscle cells that is the ultimate powerhouse – the primary engine of energy production. From the study, which was done on men at an average age of 70 years old, researchers reported that “…the older individuals were able to improve strength by approximately 50%, to levels that were only 38% less than that of young individuals…”. This means that seniors engaged in weight training closed the strength gap between themselves and their counterparts who were nearly 40 years younger from 59% to 38%, which is an improvement of almost 36% in a mere six months of the study. Muscle biopsies from the study showed “a remarkable reversal of the expression profile of 179 genes associated with age and exercise training…Genes that were down-regulated with age were correspondingly up-regulated with exercise, while genes that were up-regulated with age, were down-regulated with exercise.”
The researchers summed things up by reporting that “healthy older adults show a gene expression profile in skeletal muscle consistent with mitochondrial dysfunction and associated processes such as cell death, as compared with young individuals. Moreover, following a period of resistance exercise training in older adults, we found that age-associated transcriptome expression changes were reversed, implying a restoration of a youthful expression profile.”
Yes, you read that right: when it comes to mitochondria, weight training reversed nearly 40 years of aging!
But exercise doesn’t only affect mitochondria. Two more recent studies have shown that exercise protects DNA from the wear and tear of aging, and that the addition of fast-twitch muscle fibers precipitate fat loss and improve metabolic function – primarily by acting on telomeres. Telomeres cap the DNA chromosomes in your cells and protect these chromosomes from damage. As you age, telomeres progressively wear and shorten from repeated cell division, oxidative stress, inflammation, and other metabolic processes, eventually leaving the cell’s chromosomes unprotected. When the caps are completely eroded or disappear, the wear and tear begins to cut into your genes, causing cells to become damaged and discarded as you grow older.
When it comes to the latest in muscle-building and muscle-maintenance research, here are a few more key research-proven takeaways for building lean and functional muscle in the cleanest, most efficient way possible:
–In one fascinating study, scientists measured telomeres in twins to gauge the effect of exercise on aging, a study that proved the research participants who spent more than 3 hours each week lifting weights had longer telomeres than subjects 10 years younger, suggesting that individuals who eschew placing a vigorous load on their body may wind up biologically older by 10 years.
–Research has also shown that replacing endurance-based slow-twitch type I muscle fibers with stronger and faster type II muscle fibers produces a significant reduction of fat mass and insulin resistance.
-Beyond the age of 30, we lose approximately six pounds of muscle mass per decade, and these findings indicate that interventions designed to increase skeletal muscle mass (such as weight training) are critical weapons in the fight against obesity and obesity-related ailments, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and cancer.
-Weight training and recruitment of strength-based type II muscle fibers, is more effective than cardio, endurance and aerobics for fat loss, weight control, and weight training converts the body’s cells into tiny fat-burning machines.
-A groundbreaking study found that long-term hard exercise is actually not, contrary to popular opinion, associated with accelerated aging if that exercise is specifically comprised of powerlifting with full body weight training moves like the deadlift and the squat – and this strategy can actually increase telomere length, meaning that the heavier the load you put on your muscles, the longer your telomeres will tend to be.
Of course, we must eventually venture out of the petri dish and whitewashed lab and into the real world. After all, telomeres and mitochondria are one thing, but the important question is whether activities like weight training and load-bearing and power lifting can actually make you live longer.
The answer is yes. For example, one recent study proved that older adults who met twice-weekly strength training guidelines showed lower odds of dying – the first study of its kind to demonstrate the association in a large, nationally representative sample over an extended time period, particularly in an older population.
In the study, older adults who strength trained at least twice a week had a 46 percent lower odds of death for any reason than those who did not! They also had 41 percent lower odds of cardiac death and 19 percent lower odds of dying from cancer. When the researchers adjusted for demographic variables, health behaviors and health conditions, this statistically significant effect on mortality remained. Even after the researchers controlled for physical activity level, people who reported strength exercises appeared to see a greater mortality benefit than those who reported physical activity alone. So this study provides solid, statistically significant evidence that strength training in older adults is beneficial for anti-aging, and goes way above and beyond improving muscle strength and physical function.
Just take a look at a few examples of fit, old people, who demonstrate that this type of training really does work:
-97 year old Charles Eugster is a decorated British sprinter who holds world records in the 200m (indoor) and 400m (outdoor) sprints, as well as British records in the 60m (indoor), 100m (outdoor), and 200m (outdoor). Charles is also a body-builder, a public speaker, a writer, a rower, a wakeboarder, an entrepreneur, and a fashion designer, planning his own line in elderly couture. And yes, Charles lifts a lot weights.
-63 year old Mark Sisson, known as the “Gray Fox”, who probably possesses the finest set of six-pack abs you’ve ever seen on any guy, much less a guy his age. Rather than engaging in long, slow, “chronic cardio” exercise, Mark instead performs short, fast all-out sprint workouts at least once a week, all year long. He doesn’t overdo these, and recommends doing such workouts (e.g. ultimate Frisbee, treadmill high intensity intervals, hard bicycling up hills, etc.) just once every 7-10 days. Second, he performs brief, intense sessions of full body, heavy weightlifting 1-3 times each week, for just 7-30 minutes. Finally, he moves frequently at a slow pace, using things like treadmill workstations and low-level physical activity all day long, and avoids any long, unbroken periods of sedentary time.
– 82 year old Don Wildman completes 3x each week the “Hardest Workout In The World”, and I’ve barely crawled out of the gym 2.5 hours into Don’s workout.
– 80 year old, ripped Art De Vany does extremely short weight training episodes of just 15 minutes by using a strategy of exercise called “eccentric training”, a potent workout method results in not only a significant anti-aging effect, but also a significant increase in youthful compounds such as growth hormone and testosterone.
So what weight training has actually been proven to be best?
- Power training: when it comes to muscle and anti-aging, fast wiry muscle beats out pure muscle mass. The healthiest muscles you’re going to find are those found in a wiry physique of modest size, but a physique capable of exerting a lot of force over a short period of time.
- Superslow training. A good weight training program, in addition to power training, should indeed include some kind of a super-slow lifting protocol, specifically 12-20 minutes of just a few choice multi-joint exercises with extremely slow, controlled lifting (30-60 seconds per rep) and relatively high weights. This form of lifting can result in long term gains with low risk of injury, and a potent cardiovascular training effect and blood pressure lowering effect to boot.
There are also, in fact, fringe methods to maintain or build muscle that go beyond weight training. For example, one prevailing thought among exercise enthusiasts is that if you lay off weight training for a certain period of time, then you will lose muscle, and that the only way to maintain muscle is to load that muscle. But there are other ways you can maintain muscle, even if you’re injured and can’t make it into the weight room. One such method is electrical muscle stimulation (EMS), a muscle-maintenance strategyy that I covered in detail in this article.
Another lesser-known method of maintaining muscle is via heat stress, which you can implement by using a dry sauna, wet sauna or infrared sauna. One of the mechanisms by which heat stress prevents muscle loss and protein degradation is by triggering the release of proteins called heat shock proteins (also known as HSPs), whichcan prevent muscle damage by removing free radicals and supporting cellular antioxidant production, but can also repair misfolded, damaged proteins in muscle tissue. Research has shown that when rats are exposed to heat stress, they expressed HSP’s to an extent associated with 30 percent more muscle regrowth compared to a control group. As an added bonus, one particular HSP (the HSP70 gene) has also been linked to increased longevity, which suggests there may be anti-aging benefits to regular heat stress too! For more on heat stress, read my article on the science of sauna training.
Growth hormone is also crucial for repair and recovery of muscles, and research has shown that two 20-minute sauna sessions separated by a 30-minute cooling period can elevate growth hormone levels two-fold over baseline. Two 15-minute sauna sessions at an even warmer temperature separated by a 30-minute cooling period resulted in a five-fold increase in growth hormone.
It is also important to note that when hyperthermia and exercise are combined, they induce a synergistic increase in growth hormone, which is exercises such as yoga, body weight push-ups or squats in a sauna, can amplify results. For an additional recovery benefit, sauna also increases blood flow to the skeletal muscles, which helps to keep them fueled with glucose, amino acids, fatty acids, and oxygen, while removing by-products of metabolic processes such as lactic acid and calcium ions, and can even build new red blood cells at a rate similar to illegal performance enhancing drugs such as EPO.
Whew! That’s it! Do you have more questions about how to defy aging with exercise?