Want to Live Longer? Build Stronger (and Bigger) Muscles

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by Nils osmar. April 4, 2022

I was reminded recently about the difference between anti-aging and life extension. Anything that reverses an age-related condition is anti-aging, even if it doesn’t make us live longer. And things (such as certain medical interventions) can be life-extending without necessarily improving the quality of our lives.

With that said, they’re interconnected. The graphic Peter Attia uses at the beginning of “The Drive” is a nice illustration of their interconnection. The blue line indicates normal aging, which consists of a a steady, ongoing loss of functioning that starts at midlife and continues for decades, during which the person experiences more and more pronounced loss of functioning.

The red line indicates aging with compressed morbidity – there’s some definite life extension, but a bigger benefit is that the loss of functioning that we associate with the aging process (indicated as a downward slope) doesn’t occur till years or decades later. The promise of anti-aging in this sense is that we may be able to stay healthy into our 80s and 90s or longer, then experience a brief period of decline toward the end of life.

Both are Important

My own focus on things like restoring my hormones to youthful levels, building muscle (instead of losing it) as the years go by, and staying mentally sharp and clear, is primarily an anti-aging strategy. I’ve outlined what I’m doing in detail on the Rekindle Protocol page.

I’d love to live forever (or have that option), but I’m aware that working out alone won’t get me to immortality. But with a bit of luck, it, along with the other things I’m doing, may keep me alive and in good health long enough to still be around when better life-extending therapies become available.

Resistance training is a recognized anti-aging strategy. When we do it effectively, we’re pushing back against age-related muscle loss — deciding that we want to be strong and mobile in our 90s or 100s, not weak and bedridden.

But does exercise (in the form of resistance training; building stronger muscles) also increase the lifespan? Some recent research suggests that it does. It may not increase maximum lifespan, but it makes it likely that we’ll live far longer than we would have if we didn’t exercise, and in better health.

Why Muscle Matters

We may be drawn toward muscle building initially out of vanity. Who wants to look weak and flabby if they can look strong and vibrant? This may seem shallow, but personally I think this it’s an acceptable motivation. Building strong muscles is improving our health from the inside out. It makes much more sense to me than cosmetic interventions that put a bright coat of paint on a body that’s falling apart inside.

But building and maintaining muscle as the years go by is also about health and longevity. Having strong muscles means that we’re more likely to survive if we have an accident and end up in a hospital or nursing home. (It also makes it more likely that we won’t be perpetually stuck in the nursing home if we do end up there.)

A recent interesting study

Several studies have confirmed that building muscle using resistance training may also have longevity benefits. One was a recent study called “Association of Appendicular Lean Mass, and Subcutaneous and Visceral Adipose Tissue With Mortality in Older Brazilians“, which was published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research.

In it, researchers studied a group of 839 men and women over the age of 65, looking at changes in their bone density, muscle mass and body fat. The study went on for several years’ time. Some key findings were that:

  • Women with low appendicular mass were 63 times more likely to die early compared to those with more arm and leg muscle mass.
  • Men with low appendicular mass were 11 times more likely to die young.

Having weaker arm and leg muscles can also make us more prone to falls and fractures, which can then lead to being permanently warehoused in a nursing home. This is a primary danger in developing sarcopenia and osteoporosis. According to the CDC’s website:

Falls are the leading cause of injury-related death among adults age 65 and older, and the age-adjusted fall death rate is increasing. The age-adjusted fall death rate is 64 deaths per 100,000 older adults. Fall death rates among adults age 65 and older increased about 30% from 2009 to 2018.

Another study (Exercise dosing to retain resistance training adaptations in young and older adults) found that we may need more, not less, exercise as we age. Aging is pulling us toward sarcopenia. we need to be actively pushing back against it. Going anecdotal for a moment, in my own case, I’ve found that if I exercise twice a week, I start declining. If I exercise three times, I make visible and tangible gains.

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