Coming up on this episode of the Doctor’s Pharmacy.
Dr. Mark Hyman:
Strength training improves your mood, helps prevent dementia, increases neuroplasticity, makes new brain cells, obviously improves your muscle strength, your bone health so it can stave off osteoporosis and prevent you from being frail as you get older. It helps with sleep.
Welcome to the Doctor’s Pharmacy. I’m Dr. Mark Hyman. That’s pharmacy with a place for conversations that matter.
And have you ever wondered about what kind of exercise you should do to extend your life, to stay functional, to stave off and reverse chronic disease? Well, you better listen up because we’re going to talk about that today because we’re talking about strength training. And now if there were a pill for longevity that would treat every single one of the major factors that goes wrong as we age, in that pill would be bottled up exercise. Now, certain forms of exercise are far more effective at optimizing our health, our metabolism, and making us live longer. Now, aerobic conditioning is really important, but there’s strength conditioning, muscle mass, how much muscle we have, and our flexibility and agility.
These are all important parts of our functional health as we get older and for staying functional, because the key is you want to be to get up the floor, off the floor. You want to be able to get out of your chair, you want to be able to play with your grandkids. You want to be able to do the things you want to do in life and not be restricted by poor function.
Now one of the reasons exercise is so powerful in activating all of our ancient healing mechanisms and reversing disease and turning on all our longevity pathways is that it works by this process we call hormesis, which is essentially an idea that it’s a stress, it doesn’t kill you, but makes you stronger. When you run on maniac, you’re stressing your body but you’re also making it more efficient, stronger, and better. When you lift weights or use your body weight or have resistance training, you’re tearing muscle fibers, but then end up causing a rebound effect to make you stronger. So these are really important, and strength training is one of the best practices for hormesis.
So let’s talk about why it’s important. Why is building muscle, why is maintaining muscle, why is making your muscle work better such an essential part of health and longevity? It’s because of this process that happens if we don’t do it, if we don’t lift weights, if we don’t use body weight, if we don’t use bands, if we don’t do some kind of resistance training, we end up losing muscle. We lose muscle progressively from our thirties, right until we die if we don’t do something to counteract it.
And this process of muscle loss is called sarcopenia. Sarcopenia means just less muscle. Sarco means muscle in Latin, I think I don’t remember. Penia means less, so sarcopenia like osteoporosis, osteopenia, sarcopenia. Now it’s pretty much ignored by medicine. I didn’t learn much about it at medical school. I learned about osteoporosis and people don’t really talk about it, but it actually is the most important thing you need to learn because your muscle is an enormous metabolic organ. It’s the biggest metabolic organ and organ in your body, period. It has so many functions other than just moving your bones around and walking and mobilization. It’s a profoundly active metabolic organ. It’s a hormonal organ, it’s an immune organ, it’s a neurotransmitter organ, it’s essential to work properly for you to be healthy and it provides all our energy.
So when you lose muscle, it’s one of the key accelerators of rapid aging disease. And unless we actually learn how to build muscle through the right diet, which includes the right amount of protein at the right time with the right balance of amino acids, which is super critical because not all protein is created equal. Just like all fats not created equal, all carbohydrates are not created equal. All protein is not equal, right?
If you have trans fat like margarine, that’s deadly. If you have omega-3 fats, that’s incredibly powerful healing compound in the body. Same thing, fat but very different effect. Carbohydrates. Broccoli is a carbohydrate, so is white flour or white sugar. They have profoundly different effects on the body. Same thing with protein. So it’s important that approaching isn’t lumped into one. Vegetable proteins are very different than animal protein.
And by the way, it’s the only nutrient we need at macro levels. We need omega-3 fats at micro levels, a few grams a day. We need no carbohydrate. There’s no biological requirement for carbohydrate. If you stop eating any carbohydrate, your body would make what you need and you don’t need any get from diet. Protein is the only macronutrient you need in large amounts to survive, lot of it. So a hundred grams, not a few milligrams. So this is really, really important to understand and you have to have the right kind of protein, but you also need the right kind of exercise.
Now when you lose muscle, what happens? You get more insulin resistant. So more pre-diabetic. You slow your metabolism, you have higher stress hormone cortisol, you have lower growth hormone, which is the hormone to repair, rebuild and renew your tissues. You have lower testosterone, so you actually end up in a vicious cycle of losing more muscle and having it replaced with fat. You have increased inflammation. And so you have all these horrible things that happen that are related to aging that increase diseases in general.
But when you lose muscle, you also get weaker and more frail and disabled and immobile and you lose your independence and you end up more in the hospital or nursing home. It’s because of this muscle loss sarcopenia. So we’ve got to fight this entropy related, age related loss of muscle function and of muscle mass. And we have to do it with resistance training.
Now there’s a lot of ways to do that. Weights and bands and body weight and there’s a lot of ways to do it, but we have to do it in combination with eating the right amount of protein. Now if we don’t build more muscle, we’re going to waste away, guaranteed. It’s basically use it or lose it.
Now I personally thought, okay, I’m running, I’m playing tennis, I’m biking, I do yoga. That’s kind of strength training. I’m like, ah, I don’t really like the gym. It’s smelly. It’s stinky. A lot of big guys with big muscles that kind of intimidate me. I better not do that. I’m a skinny guy. So I basically never went in the gym. And occasionally I was like, I’m going to try to lift weights or do pushups and then I would do it and I would hurt like heck for five days or six days. I’m like, I’m not doing this. So it was really bad.
But then I decided about 60 years old that I better get on it. And now at 63 I’m habituated to strength training. It doesn’t take me much time. I’ve dramatically increased my muscle mass, my agility, my strength, my stability, my core. I mean it’s pretty amazing and I feel way more fit and strong than I did when I was 40 or younger.
So basically, how does this work? Well, the idea of hormesis is that when you stress yourself, the body has to respond by activating some kind of healing response to deal with the stress, which is a good thing. And it’s kind of a miracle how it is designed. We have these innate healing mechanisms that are designed to respond to difficult situations. We’ve had to deal with way more stressors from an evolutionary point of view than we ever had comforts. We have way more genes in adaptive starvation than to an abundance of food. So it’s just how we’re designed. And you have to activate those healing systems and they’re degraded by our diet, by our environment, by our lack of exercise.
But the science is really discovering how do we activate these pathways? How do we that? And one of the key ideas around health, around longevity, whether it’s hot and cold therapy, whether it’s hypoxia therapy, whether it’s hyperbaric oxygen, whether it’s fasting or time restricted eating and of course exercise is, these are stresses and the idea that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger is such a central idea for longevity. When your system’s stressed a little, not too much, obviously you don’t want to go lift like 300 pounds and throw out your back. You don’t want to go in 30 degree water for two hours. You’re going to die of hypothermia. So you have to have the right dose and the right amount and do it properly so you don’t hurt yourself.
But you have to understand how to use exercise to activate these hormesis pathways. So there’s two real important ways. One is HIIT training, which is intensive cardiovascular fitness. And that works by increasing the VO2 max and your mitochondrial efficiency and your ability to burn calories. It’s really important. But strength training is also really important. If I would probably pick between the two I’d probably hate to say it, but I’d probably pick strength training, especially as you get older, it’s one of the most powerful things you can do. And you don’t want to choose, but if you have to choose, and I do actually HIIT strength training routine, which I get both cardio and exercise strength. I kind of cheat, but it’s okay.
So we know really deeply how this works. What does strength training do? How does it improve all the hallmarks of aging? How did it look at the root causes of disease and aging? I talked about this in my book Young Forever. If you haven’t gotten a copy yet, please get a copy. It’s the number one New York Times bestseller. Thanks all to you. Thank you so much.
And here’s how it works. Exercise improves your mitochondria, which are important to produce energy in your body. And as we age, we lose mitochondria in terms of both their number and their function. So they become less efficient and then we get fewer of them. So when we do strength training, we build up more muscle and we get more mitochondria and we make them work better, which is really, really important.
It also improves your blood pressure, cholesterol, lowers risk of heart disease. Strength training improves your mood, your motivation, your cognitive function, increases something called BDNF, which increases like Miracle Grow for your brain. It helps prevent dementia by doing that as well and increases neuroplasticity, makes new brain cells. It’s pretty impressive actually. Obviously improves your muscle strength, your bone health, so it can stave up osteoporosis and prevent you from being frail as you get older. It helps with sleep, helps with libido and sexual function because it helps testosterone boosting in men and women. So it’s a lot of benefits to strength training.
So what should you do to incorporate strength training into your routine, into your exercise routine? Well just first understand the preserving muscle, building muscle, optimizing muscle function are the keys to the fountain of youth. So try something, anything, please. Weightlifting, resistance bands, body weight, those are the three main ones. And there’s a lot of things like TRX, and this is often using body weight, but I love it and I find my body works better, it feels better.
And I don’t really like going to the gym that much, sometimes I go, but I basically do a home strength training program. I use Tom Brady’s system called TB 12 Sports. You buy the bands online, you can get the app for 50 bucks. I don’t have any relationship with them. I’m not selling it for them, but basically it’s changing my life. So that’s why I love it. And it’s portable. I travel with it everywhere. I can use it any place, a hotel room, any place there’s a floor and a doorknob basically. And it’s incredible. And I find I can do my routine in half an hour. I’m in and out and I love it and I feel so good afterwards. The bands tend to cause less injuries, you get older you might be more prone to injury. You can start with lighter bands and work up to heavier bands.
But if you haven’t done any strength training, and I started off working with somebody to make sure my form was right, that I was doing it right, that I had my body position right because you can hurt yourself, so you want to make sure you do it properly. Never too late to start. My dad was like 89. He couldn’t get up out of a chair. He was sort of frail and I’m like, “Hey Dad, I know you walk every day, but you need to do strength training.” And I got him a trainer and he got so much fitter. We end up playing tennis at 89 years old. Pretty impressive.
So what puts people in nursing home is not a disease usually, it’s their lack of ability to do their daily activities. And that’s you don’t want. You want to have high functioning. What is the biggest risk factor for death as you get older is one of the things is falling. If you fall and break your hip, it’s like getting a terminal diagnosis of cancer. Like pancreatic cancer, you’re basically 50% likely to die in a year. It’s really bad news. So you don’t want to fall. And if you have more muscle, you can brace yourself, you can resist your falls, you probably won’t fall.
So basically try to do three times a week of strength training, 20 to 30 minutes. And helps in every possible way in terms of your fat burning, muscle function, energy, longevity pathways. It’s dope. So whatever you do for any of your health practices, aside from what you eat, this is one of the most important.
And if I had to sort of pick two things to do for longevity, it would be cut out starch and sugar and eat the right protein to get muscle building and strength training. Do strength training.
And let’s just talk about protein for a minute. I wish it were true that you could get all the protein you need from beans and grains and plant foods to get the proper muscle building as you get older. It’s just not possible. You need to eat enormous amounts of plant foods. You have to have six cups of brown rice to get 30 grams of protein. You have to have two cups of beans to get 30 grams of protein. You just can’t get enough.
However, you can if you have protein powders. So you can get plant protein powders. And if they have added to them the right amino acids, particularly leucine, which was a rate limiting amino acid for building muscle and that’s super important to get. If you have seen all these big body builders who are vegans, that’s how they do it. It’s not from eating greens and beans. They have all these extra supplemental proteins in order to actually build muscle. So it’s possible, but you have to know what you’re doing.
You just need the right physiological compounds to build muscle. And it’s just science. There’s no debate here about what the science is. You can go look in my book Young Forever. I quoted all the studies, look at the data, the review of all the data by the top world’s protein experts, and this is just how it works. So make sure you have protein. Be about an hour or two after you do strength training. And I love whey protein. It’s my favorite. I use goat whey. But that’s a great way to build your muscle.
So I hope you’ve enjoyed this health bite about exercise and strength training. It’s a heavy lift, I know, pun intended, but strength training is one of the most powerful hormetic therapies you can possibly engage in. It creates health, it extends your life. It’s available to everybody. So if you want to be healthy, live a long time and prevent free healthy disability as you age, get moving and get lifting.
All right, that’s it for today’s health bite. Hope you enjoyed it. Hope I inspired you. And tell us how you’ve found strength training or resistance training to help your health. What’s happened to you? Share this with your friends and family. Leave a comments about that benefits you found. And subscribe wherever you get your podcast. And we’ll see you next week on the Doctor’s Pharmacy.
Hi everyone. I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. Just a reminder that this podcast is for educational purposes only. This podcast is not a substitute for professional care by a doctor or other qualified medical professional. This podcast is provided on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services. If you’re looking for help in your journey, seek out a qualified medical practitioner. If you’re looking for a functional medicine practitioner, you can visit ifm.org and search their find a practitioner database. It’s important that you have someone in your corner who’s trained, who’s a licensed healthcare practitioner and can help you make changes, especially when it comes to your health.