The Importance of Strength for Health & Longevity

Learn why physical strength can be such an accurate predictor of good health outcomes.

 

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Posted

April 27, 2022

Physical strength has been consistently found to be a better predictor of good health outcomes and mortality than any other physiological measure or marker.

 

When considering our health and increasing longevity, most discussions typically revolve around metabolic health, cardiovascular risk, immune function, or hormonal balance. Often which one of these variables receives most of our attention will depend upon the bias of the experts we follow and their area of expertise, or our own experiences and what we believe to be our own biggest risk factors.

Yet the variable of physical strength, which frequently gets overlooked, has been consistently found to be a better predictor of good health outcomes and mortality than any other physiological measure or marker.

When studying over 60’s, the most reliable predictor of all-cause mortality or who is likely to live the longest is how strong they are based on tests like grip strength measurements, how long they can dead hang from a bar or quadriceps contractile force (1).

Read on to learn why physical strength can be such an accurate predictor of good health outcomes.

 

Metabolic Health

Your metabolic health is how well you utilize the energy that has been absorbed from digested food that travels in your blood in the form of glucose and triglycerides. Metabolic health is fundamental to most bodily systems as it determines how well our cells take on energy to function (2).

A stronger muscle cell requires more resources to exist. This means it will require more energy in the form of glucose or fat just to sustain itself and maintain Its strength. What this means practically, is that being stronger increases your metabolic rate. Increased daily energy requirements offer a protection against metabolic dysfunction as energy is more readily absorbed from the blood into muscle cells for usage (3).

What’s more, of the glucose we consume most of it will be stored as glycogen for use later. 20% of our glycogen storage resources are in our liver, the rest is stored in our muscle cells for use when required. Larger/stronger muscle cells have a greater capacity to store glucose making them a glucose sink (3).

Considering this, it is easy to see how increased strength can reduce risks for metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and associated morbidities (4).

 

 

Cardiovascular Risk

Much of cardiovascular risk may be related to metabolic health – which may be one of the main mechanisms via which strength can reduce cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality.

Elevated blood glucose can be damaging to the arterial endothelia. As muscle tissue is a glucose sink, increased strength will blunt blood glucose spikes or daily variability by increased glucose absorption (5).

Elevated cholesterol, namely LDL cholesterol remains the strongest associative marker for CVD. As it does with glucose, muscle acts as a cholesterol sink. The increased demand for cholesterol to be used in the cell membranes of new lean tissue tends to balance lipid markers within the blood (6).

 

Immune Function

The effect of muscle tissue on immune function is a relatively new and exciting field. Research shows that muscle tissue is more than just something that allows us to move but it functions like an organ by using signaling molecules to communicate with our body.

Signaling molecules known as ‘myokines’ are secreted by muscle tissue which have an anti-inflammatory effect on the cells of other tissues within the body. Inflammation is stimulatory to the immune system as it signals for a ‘problem’ within the body, combatting inflammation can have a balancing effect on the immune system (7).

In addition, it has been shown that increasing muscle cell strength or the process of autophagy within the body needs to be enhanced. Autophagy refers to natural cell death whereby an old or ‘senescent’ cell signal for termination. The immune system hears the signal and destroys this cell. This process is important to maintain healthy tissue and why processes that increase autophagy may contribute to increased health or lifespan according to animal models (8).

Autophagy is so important in maintenance of muscle mass that if we artificially inhibit autophagy muscle tissue will atrophy. This mechanism lends evidence to why resistance training has been shown to improve quality of life and outcomes in autoimmune conditions and cancer (9,10).

 

How to Get Stronger

The good news about trying to get stronger is that when compared to other exercise it can be low frequency and though you should challenge your body, this is not about getting excessively tired or fatigued but doing the minimal effective dose for you that will elicit an adaptive signal sufficient for you to improve by your next session. The key is to have a program that is appropriate for you, but it could include some of the following:

  • Regularly doing squats, hip hinges, push and pulls – or similar compound movements.
  • Use bodyweight, bands, dumbbells, or barbells once or twice a week.
  • Take the stairs when possible instead of lifts or escalators
  • Practices like yoga, pilates and dancing are great for cultivating strength
  • Gardening!

 

Your ability to adapt to strength stimulus exists until the day you die and even people in their 80’s has been shown to get stronger after commencing training (16). The list of benefits to strength training may seem too good to be true but in reality, this is no different to the benefits you would get from optimizing your diet, sleep or stress levels. I find that when considering health, the variable or strength is often overlooked.

 

 

Dorian Soanes

Author Dorian Soanes

Dorian Soanes is a registered Nutritional Therapist and certified NLP coach trained in the functional medicine model. Dorian’s specialities include autoimmune thyroid disease, complex gastrointestinal conditions, gout, mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) and environmental mould toxicity and its numerous knock on effects on total body health.

 

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References

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