Lift your way to strength – and help your body stay young

Weightlifting isn’t just the preserve of musclebound hulks. Now women of all ages are increasingly turning to barbells as a way of staying healthy and warding off the effects of getting older.

Any woman can be strong. I don’t just mean strong in the metaphorical sense -I mean simply being able to exert force against gravity. You may think that strong women are born, not made. You may be thinking of Olympic weightlifters straining to clean and jerk dozens of kilos over their heads, or of bodybuilders in bikinis posing and flexing. Several of the women I interviewed for this article thought that way before they started to lift barbells. “I thought women who lifted were Amazons,” said one. “People who did stuff on TV, who were bulky. And I wasn’t interested.” Another remarked: “I couldn’t see a reason to build up all that bulk.”

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13 ways one type of exercise is the closest thing to a miracle drug we have

Want an all-natural way to lift your mood, improve your memory, and protect your brain against the decline that comes with aging? Get moving.

Exercises that get your heart pumping and sweat flowing – kwnon as aerobic exercise, or “cardio”- have significant and beneficial effects on the brain and body, according to a wealth of recent research, including a new study published Thursday.

“Aerobic exercise is key for your head, just as it is for your heart,” according to an article in a Harvard Medical School blog.

Here are some of the ways cardio is such a boon for our bodies.

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How high-intensity interval training keeps you young

It’s off-repeated but true: exercise keeps you healthy.

It boots your immune system, keeps the mind sharp, helps you sleep, maintains your muscle tone, and extends your healthy lifespan.

Researchers have long suspected that the benefits of exercise extend down to the cellular level, but know relatively little about which exercises help cells rebuild key organelles that deteriorate with aging.

A study published in Cell Metabolism found that exercise -and in particular high-intensity interval training in aerobic exercises such as biking and walking- caused cells to make more proteins for their energy-producing mitochondria and their protein-building ribosomes, effectively stopping aging at the cellular level. 

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How exercise in old age prevents the immune system from declining

Doing lots of exercise in older age can prevent the immune system from declining and protect people against infections, scientists say.

They followed 125 long-distance cyclists, some now in their 80s, and found they had the immune systems of 20-year-olds.

Prof Norman Lazarus, 82, of King’s College London, who took part in and co-authored the research, said: “If exercise was a pill, everyone would be taking it.

“It has wide-ranging benefits for the body, the mind, for our muscles and our immune system.”

The research was published in the journal Aging Cell.

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Aerobic exercise may be key for Alzheimer’s prevention

New research recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Societyexplores the benefits of exercising for delaying Alzheimer’s disease.

Last year, a review by scientists at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles found that as many as 1 in 3 cases of Alzheimer’s disease were preventable through lifestyle changes.

The same report also highlighted nine steps that anyone could take to significantly reduce their risk. One such step was increasing physical activity.

In fact, it is so widely accepted that exercise is a good way to prevent dementia that the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that individuals aged 65 and above engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week, or 75 weekly minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise, to keep this form of dementia at bay.

Finally, a third option recommended by the WHO involves both moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity, complemented with muscle-strengthening activities.

But as the authors of the new study point out, the WHO base their recommendations on a few meta-analyses that have yielded conflicting results on the benefits of exercise for dementia.

One of the reasons for these conflicting results could be that the previous research used dated statistical tools, suggest the study authors.

So, Gregory Panza — an exercise physiologist in the Department of Cardiology at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, CT — and his team set out to examine the cognitive benefits of exercise in more depth and using newer tools.

They carried out a review of existing literature, which included a total of 19 studies examining the effects of exercise in at-risk seniors.

Overall, the analysis included 1,145 seniors who were at risk of Alzheimer’s either because one of their parents had been diagnosed with the illness, or because they already had mild cognitive impairment, which is a precursor of Alzheimer’s.

Aerobic best for Alzheimer’s prevention

Panza and his colleagues revealed that cognitive function in elderly adults who engaged only in aerobic exercise was three times better than that of seniors who did a combination of aerobic exercise and muscle-strengthening exercises.

The study showed that overall, seniors who did any type of exercise demonstrated better cognitive function than those who did not exercise at all. In fact, those who did not exercise had a slight cognitive decline.

The study also confirmed that the WHO’s guidelines for physical activity were backed up by the evidence that they examined. As the authors conclude:

“Our findings suggest that exercise training may delay the decline in cognitive function that occurs in individuals who are at risk of or have AD [Alzheimer’s disease], with aerobic exercise possibly having the most favorable effect.”

In fact, Panza and colleagues say that theirs is the first study to suggest that aerobic exercise may be superior in its ability to stave off Alzheimer’s in at-risk individuals.

However, the authors also concede that “[a]dditional randomized controlled clinical trials that include objective measurements of cognitive function are needed to confirm [their] findings.”

“Ultimately,” they note, “studies should aim to examine physical activity and exercise in combination with other strategies (e.g., medications) to develop more targeted prevention and treatment options for AD.”

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