Get Strong, Live Long

Toshisuke Kanazawa, Ernestine Shepherd, Andreas Cahling senior bodybuilders healthy aging
Toshisuke Kanazawa, Ernestine Shepherd & Andreas Cahling: Great examples of why it's an advantage to stay strong as you get older

We all want to live long, healthy lives. We want to be able to see our children grow up and play with our grandkids and live with vigor into our golden years. Well I can tell you that the fountain of youth does exist; the only problem is, it’s not as easy as taking a refreshing sip from some long hidden spring. Like anything worthwhile in life, you’ve got to work for it. 


Strong people live longer and better

It seems pretty conclusive from all the scientific evidence that we have, that strength is one of the most important factors for living a longer, healthier life {1}. The evidence is so strong, in fact, that I’m going to make it my goal with this article to convince you to make strength training a regular part of your life.


Muscle & Aging

Take a look at the diagram below {1} and prepare yourself for a shock.


muscle of young, old inactive and old active people. healthy aging, strength and longevity
Young, Old Inactive & Old Active: which would you prefer as you get older?

The picture on the left (C) is a cross section of the muscle of a 24 year old man. It’s a healthy muscle; large, full and with very little fat (the white parts of the picture). The middle picture (D) is the muscle of a 66 year old, inactive man. Notice the differences; it’s smaller with far more fat both around it and fat infiltrating inside it too. This is not a healthy muscle. Seriously, would you like your muscles to look like that?


Next look at the picture on the right (E), from another 66 year old man but this time one who is much more active than the man in the middle (their average daily steps are written under the pictures in red. While it’s not as full and lean as the muscle of the young man, notice how much healthier it looks compared to the middle picture (the inactive man). It’s bigger, fuller and has much less fat, both around it and within it.


How would you like your muscles to look as you get older? I want you to remember theses pictures as you read the rest of this article.


Why is being strong so important for health?

There are so many benefits to being strong that I’m just going to list them out.


1. You live longer (you're harder to kill)

Stronger people are simply less likely to die from ALL CAUSES than weaker people {1-4} with one study showing that the weakest 60 year olds were 50% more likely to die from all causes (including cancer) than the strongest {5}. Studies have even shown that survival rates from heart attacks are higher in stronger people. In the words of the great strength coach, Mark Rippetoe: “Strong people are harder to kill”.


Mark Rippetoe stong people are harder to kill and more useful, strength , aging, longevity
Strong people are simply harder to kill!

2. You build stronger bones

Osteoporosis (a weakening/thinning of the bones with age) is a serious problem for older people. Being physically active, strong and with plenty of muscle improves your bone density {6} (it makes your bones stronger) and higher bone density means less chance of fractures in later life {7}. Avoiding fractures is really important when you’re older as a fracture can lead to a lot of bed rest and recovery which in turn leads to muscle and strength loss, which, as we already mentioned, is essential for living a long life.    


3. You avoid the dreaded Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is one of the greatest health problems our inactive, overweight society is dealing with. It’s basically a group of health problems that often go hand in hand: High Triglycerides, High Cholesterol, High Blood Pressure, High Fasting Glucose and High Waist Circumference (having a big belly). Once again, higher levels of muscle mass and strength are protective against developing Metabolic Syndrome {8}.


4. You won't lose your mind

Dementia is a serious risk in old age and many families suffer from “losing” a loved one (mentally) despite that loved one still being alive. Amazingly, higher grip strength (a common and easy way of measuring strength) is associated with lower chance of developing dementia in older people {9}. 


Strength Training or an Active Lifestyle?

You might be inclined to say something along the lines of “Well, I have a pretty active life already” or I don’t need to lift weights”. You might be right but the evidence that we have would say otherwise.


Have another look at the three photos of the leg muscles above. The text in red shows that the 66 year old on the right (E) not only takes more daily steps than the 66 year old in the middle (D) but he also spends more time (130 minutes compared to 22 minutes) doing more intense physical activities (MET is a measure of the intensity of physical activity known as Metabolic Equivalents).


A lot of scientific research that is showing us now that being physically active is not enough to improve your health; you need to be physically active at a high enough activity to get the real benefits of exercise. One study in particular found that lighter, less intense activities such as household chores, activity used in moving from place to place (such as walking) and the normal activity of ones daily job had NO RELATION to certain physical health indicators during life {10}. There were, however, noticeable benefits from leisure time physical activity which is generally more intense


On top of that, a huge meta-analysis (combination of multiple studies) with data from over 1.3 million people showed that higher levels of VIGOROUS physical activity were better at preventing death by all causes {11}. It would appear that when it comes to exercise, the higher the intensity, the better.


How to Stay Strong?

So if just being active in your day to day life isn’t enough to maintain strength, what can I do to get and stay strong? The answer is pretty simple:




One really interesting research paper that I found showed that lifelong strength training (weight lifting) was far better preserving strength than regular, low-intensity physical activity. The really amazing thing about the study was that masters athletes (with an average age of 71 years) who had trained there whole life, were not only stronger than similar aged men who were either recreationally active or inactive (obviously) but they were also stronger than recreationally active 22 year olds. Yes, you read right 71 year olds who did strength training were stronger than young men, supposedly in their prime {12}.


The great thing is that plenty of studies have shown that strength training can help bring about improvements in both muscle strength and size even in senior citizens {1}. Those benefits seem to be even greater when older people are on a high protein diet (it seems that older people need more protein to stimulate muscle growth). Long story short, it’s not too late to start strength training to live a longer, healthier life.


older bodybuilder weight lifter selfie weight lifting for health longevity and healthy aging
Even if you're not interested in all the health benefits, at least lifting weights will let you take some sweet selfies long into your golden years!

Muscle: Quality over Quantity

When I did the research for this article, one point that seemed to regularly come up was that muscle strength is much more important for maintaining health than muscle size {1-3}. If you look, once again at the 3 pictures of the muscles at the beginning of this article you can get an idea why. The middle muscle (D), which is the unhealthiest, has a lot of fat infiltrating inside it. This means that the muscle can actually appear bigger but it is in fact made up of a lot of stored fat… it’s a lower quality muscle. This is why muscle “size” might not be the best indicator of health.


Strength on the other hand, seems to be a good indicator of muscle quality (1,12). It’s not surprising considering a well trained, strong muscle is usually a result of plenty of intense physical activity.


Start Pumping Iron

Despite the fact that there has been an explosion in the number of gyms we see and the number of people attending them, there still seems to be a resistance to join gyms amongst people who have little history of physical activity. Going to a gym, at the beginning, is a nerve-wracking experience and takes a lot of guts.


I felt so out of place the first time I set foot in a gym. However, now, the gym feels like home to me. I’ve worked with many clients too, who had never set foot in a gym before and now all of them are addicted to the gym (in a good way). While you may feel intimidated at first, I really can’t recommend lifting weights enough as one of the most effective and safest forms of exercise around. You could start with two days a week, get used to it and maybe increase to three or four from there. Once the iron catches hold of you, you won’t need anyone to convince you to keep it up.


If you’re genuinely interested in getting and staying healthy for the rest of your life, I can’t recommend strength training enough. Please, please, please, give it a try, my only advice being that you get someone to show you how to do it properly. When you know what you’re doing you’ll enjoy it more, do it more safely and get better results even faster.


Move well, folks.


  1. McLeod M, Breen L, Hamilton DL, Philp A. Live strong and prosper: the importance of skeletal muscle strength for healthy ageing. Biogerontology. 2016. p. 497–510.
  2. Newman AB, Kupelian V, Visser M, Simonsick EM, Goodpaster BH, Kritchevsky SB, et al. Strength, But Not Muscle Mass, Is Associated With Mortality in the Health, Aging and Body Composition Study Cohort. Journals Gerontol Ser A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2006;61(1):72–7.
  3. Rantanen T, Harris T, Leveille SG, Visser M, Foley D, Masaki K, et al. Muscle strength and body mass index as long-term predictors of mortality in initially healthy men. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2000;55(3):M168–73.
  4. Leong DP, Teo KK, Rangarajan S, Lopez-Jaramillo P, Avezum A, Orlandini A, Seron P, Ahmed SH, Rosengren A, Kelishadi R, Rahman O. Prognostic value of grip strength: findings from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study. The Lancet. 2015 Jul 24;386(9990):266-73.
  5. Ruiz JR, Sui X, Lobelo F, Morrow JR, Jackson AW, Sjostrom M, et al. Association between muscular strength and mortality in men: prospective cohort study. Bmj. 2008;337:a439–a439.
  6. Proctor DN, Melton Iii LJ, Khosla S, Crowson CS, O’Connor MK, Riggs BL. Relative Influence of Physical Activity, Muscle Mass and Strength on Bone Density. Osteoporos Int. 2000;11(11):944–52.
  7. Schuit SC, Van der Klift M, Weel AE, De Laet CE, Burger H, Seeman E, Hofman A, Uitterlinden AG, Van Leeuwen JP, Pols HA. Fracture incidence and association with bone mineral density in elderly men and women: the Rotterdam Study. Bone. 2004 Jan 31;34(1):195-202.
  8. Atlantis E, Martin SA, Haren MT, Taylor AW, Wittert GA. Inverse associations between muscle mass, strength, and the metabolic syndrome. Metabolism. 2009 Jul 31;58(7):1013-22.
  9. Ong HL, Chang SH, Abdin E, Vaingankar JA, Jeyagurunathan A, Shafie S, Magadi H, Chong SA, Subramaniam M. Association of grip strength, upper arm circumference, and waist circumference with dementia in older adults of the wise study: A cross-sectional analysis. The journal of nutrition, health & aging. 2016 Dec 1;20(10):996-1001.
  10. Boisvert-Vigneault K, Payette H, Audet M, Gaudreau P, Bélanger M, Dionne IJ. Relationships between physical activity across lifetime and health outcomes in older adults: Results from the NuAge cohort. Preventive Medicine. 2016 Oct 31;91:37-42.
  11. Samitz G, Egger M, Zwahlen M. Domains of physical activity and all-cause mortality: systematic review and dose–response meta-analysis of cohort studies. International journal of epidemiology. 2011 Oct 1;40(5):1382-400.
  12. Unhjem R, Nygård M, van den Hoven LT, Sidhu SK, Hoff J, Wang E. Lifelong strength training mitigates the age-related decline in efferent drive. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2016 Aug 1;121(2):415-23. 


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