To most, age is just a number. How you treat your body in terms of diet and exercise really matters, and can ultimately help slow down the aging process. Moreover, the kind of exercise you choose to stay active also plays a role. Walking, running, hiking, and dancing — what we call aerobic exercises — are undoubtedly good for you. However, alone they are not sufficient for staying young and strong. We explain what the latest studies are revealing about the value of strength-training exercises, especially as we age.
So why are strength-training exercises important? It all comes down to how strength training affects mitochondrial density, metabolism, and our muscles, helping us live a better quality of life for longer.
Keep reading as we dive into strength training, mitochondrial density, and its benefits for longevity.
Strength Training & Mitochondrial Density
Mitochondria are essentially the “energy makers” of the cell. They help your body convert stored energy into usable energy. Mitochondria take sugars and glycogen and turn it into ATP, which is the usable energy within a cell. When you put a high demand on your cells to produce more energy — such as lifting a heavy object — a higher density of mitochondria means that your cells will be able to give you the needed energy more quickly. Basically, this is our strength.
Mitochondrial density increases energy output, but it also plays a role in metabolism — the greater your mitochondrial density, the greater your metabolism. The result? Your body becomes more efficient in energy production. Simply put, increasing the density means you will have more energy and burn calories faster.
Mitochondria mostly live in our muscle cells, and they break down with physical inactivity as well as simply with age, contributing to inflammation as they die off (which is a fascinating topic for a whole new blog).
This is why exercise is especially important for older adults, who go through a process known as sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is the natural decrease of muscle tissue in the aging process. It starts as early as our 30s and speeds up with age. Physically inactive adults lose anywhere from 3% to 5% muscle mass every decade after 30. This means that by the time we are 80, we can lose up to half of our muscle mass! Loss of muscle mass through sarcopenia results in frailty, and it can significantly impact the quality of life.
Mitochondrial density declines as we age. Loss of this density results in sarcopenia. So how can you increase mitochondrial density? By gaining more muscle. How do you put on more muscle? Numerous clinical studies confirm that strength training reverses the effect of aging and inactivity on mitochondria and muscle — helping to rebuild and improve both — and ultimately allowing us to regain strength and extend our lifespan.
What Exactly is Strength Training?
Strength-training exercises are types of activities that can be used to increase strength. This includes weight training and resistance training. Weight training involves performing specific types of exercises using weights. Resistance training utilizes external resistance (like the resistance of a bicycle, bodyweight, or gravity) in particular exercises. Both help increase muscle mass and mitochondrial density.
A 2017 study that examined high-load resistance training – the kind of exercises usually performed in a gym – and found it to be effective in promoting mitochondrial adaptations, impacting mitochondrial content and function. High-load resistance training has been studied specifically in older adults, who may stand to benefit the most from strength training since mitochondrial density reduces naturally as we age.
However, the same study, as well as a number of others, say that low-load high-volume resistance training protocol is also effective for mitochondrial density and muscle mass. This kind of low-load high-volume resistance training can be performed with light weights, resistance bands, and even using your bodyweight at home.
Longevity Benefits of Strength Training vs. Aerobic Training
Strength training for older adults holds the key to longevity. A 15-year cohort study showed that strength training is linked to living longer. This study detailed how those who continue to strength train later in life have lower mortality rates across the board.
Extensive studies have been done on strength and aerobic training, and both have value when it comes to health. Consistent aerobic activity was linked to longer telomere length, which is the key biomarker for aging, as we detailed in this blog post. However, only strength training using resistance has the advantage of increasing mitochondrial density, which leads to increased metabolism, greater muscle mass, prevention of sarcopenia, and a longer lifespan.
You don’t have to choose between the two; many smart athletes use both aerobic and strength training in their daily exercise routines. So, if you’re looking to improve your overall health, incorporating aerobic and strength training into your lifestyle would mean the best of both worlds.
It’s Never Too Late to Start Strength Training
You shouldn’t be intimidated by strength training, even if it’s something you haven’t tried before. Strength training is for everyone. Plus, the benefits for older adults are more impactful, which means there’s no better time to start than now.
Strength training improves the quality of life in the long term by supporting energy production. The more energy you produce, the more energy you can expend doing the activities that you enjoy. Strength training promotes longevity and helps you live a vital, healthy lifestyle at any age.
For help with strength-training programs, check out these strength-training classes on wysefit.com: