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You don’t have to give in to aging: How strength training can make you younger

Health Advisor is a regular column where contributors share their knowledge in fields ranging from fitness to psychology, pediatrics to aging. Follow us @Globe_Health.

Aging. The very thought can make you cringe. Many people fear the aging process and are willing to go to great lengths to try to halt it. Aging is associated with aches, pains and diseases. Even folks in their 40s are starting to use the excuse: "I'm not getting any younger" to justify their physical limitations. Many think that aches and pains are part of the deal. They expect their bodies to deteriorate. And they can't be blamed for feeling that way. The media drives home the message that the population is aging, and that we are getting sick and frail. With such a dark cloud around the subject, how can one not be afraid of aging?

The riddle of the Sphinx is: "What is that which has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and two footed and three footed?" Any idea? The answer is the human being. We start off on all-four, learn to walk upright on two feet, only to end up needing a cane. But it doesn't have to be that way. You can't avoid aging, but what if I told you that the process can be slowed down, even partly reversed?

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For the past few decades, cardio exercise has been lauded as the king of health maintenance. But recent research shows that strength training can do a lot of good for you. Rest assured I don't want to start a battle between the two forms of exercise. There are many benefits to aerobic training. It is just time to give strength training the respect it deserves. Men can get the same cardiovascular benefit from 30 minutes of strength training a week as they would from 30 minutes of brisk walking every day.

Reversal of aging

One unfortunate aspect of aging is the loss of muscle tissue and strength. But it is possible to slow down the aging process by improving strength. A 2011 study published in the journal Sport Medicine examined the effects of strength training on aging muscles. It found that strength training increased insulin sensitivity and reduced pain and inflammation from arthritis. The researchers noticed that the effects of aging were reversed!

Better brain

A group of women aged 65-75 participated in resistance and balance training classes in one 2010 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine. These women not only improved their lower body power but also improved their selective attention and conflict resolution abilities. As I reported in a previous column, a contracting muscle has a positive influence on other organs.

More active genes

There's more. In 2007, a team of American and Canadian researchers looked at the effect of strength training on aging genes. They compared 596 aging-related genes of older adults to the ones of younger participants. As expected, the older genes did not perform as well. The older participants then followed a resistance training routine twice a week for six months. After repeating the gene analysis, they saw a significant improvement in gene expression. In short: Increasing your strength will make your genes younger.

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Male hormone restoration

Time also tends to decrease the amount of male hormones in the body. This usually results in lower energy levels. But incredibly, just 12 weeks of resistance training significantly increased the level of free testosterone and DHEA, according to a study published this year in the journal of the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology.

You don't have to live in pain or give in to the effects of aging. You can do something about it. Stop using your age as an excuse. Start caring for your muscles. Challenge your muscles twice a week with one to three sets of six to 12 repetitions. Focus on exercises that use a lot of muscles. They will give you a bigger return. If you are unsure where to start, hire a professional. Using the proper technique will help prevent injuries.

Remember– never too early, never too late.

Gilles Beaudin is a registered clinical exercise physiologist at Cleveland Clinic Canada.

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