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Ep. 03 – How Resistance Training Can Help You Live Longer

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A photo of James on an orange background with the words Vegetarian Health and Longevity

Here’s the third podcast of Vegetarian Health and Longevity from Hurry The Food Up and Sports Nutritionist James LeBaigue.

Listen to the podcast on your favourite provider or click play below.

The Importance of Resistance Training

There are plenty of so-called hacks out there for living longer, but most of them don’t have any sound scientific basis behind them.

There is one, however, that clearly shows positive benefits for longevity. And in this episode, we’re going to explore it, how it works, and why it’s such a crucial thing for you to do.

Hey, and welcome to Vegetarian Health and Longevity, the podcast where we cover amazing topics that help vegetarians live longer in better health.

I’m your host, James LeBaigue. And I get to interview expert guests and also share my own experiences working as a sports nutritionist, and as an advanced clinical practitioner in family medicine.

Today’s episode is all about resistance training or strength training. By this I mean exercise where you are putting your body and so your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones under tension, and then moving against that resistance.

This might be as simple as yoga poses all the way up to heavy lifting in the gym.

Benefits of Resistance Training

Whatever it is, it’s incredibly beneficial. However, there are benefits to certain types of strength training. And we’ll delve into that in this episode.

I’m also going to tie the principles that we talked about to the vegetarian diet because what you eat can also significantly influence the positive benefits of resistance training.

One of the most important things as we age is staying independent and functional. Whether that’s simply climbing the stairs or playing with your kids or grandkids, staying mobile is crucial.

To be able to do that, you need muscle. And no, I’m not talking about bodybuilder-style muscle. I’m talking about simple functional muscle that helps you move around.

When we age, we lose muscle, and this is called sarcopenia. And it’s inevitable.

So what we want to do is slow that down and minimize the loss. Resistance training helps with this. And the research very clearly demonstrates it.

There was a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials by Channing and colleagues in 2021, and it showed that resistance training was a safe and useful way of improving strength, muscle performance, and lean body mass in older adults.

Managing Weight and Metabolism

If you want to stay independent as you get older, then resistance training is a wonderful way of doing this. But as well as muscle being helpful for movement, it also helps with weight management.

As we get older, muscle is a more energy-hungry tissue than fat, which means that your base metabolic rate will be higher if you have more lean muscle tissue compared to a higher amount of fat mass.

You may have heard that people have a lower metabolism as we get older. And in most parts, that’s actually due to lower muscle mass as we age.

Now, that is in part due to sarcopenia, like I mentioned, but actually, we know that a significant contributor is that people move less and they do less in the way of exercise or resistance training.

So actually, by doing resistance training and keeping that extra muscle, it reduces the risk of you putting on weight as you get older.

Progressive Overload and Adaptations

When it comes to resistance training, typically what I suggest is something called progressive overload. This means that you are incrementally increasing something in the exercise that you are doing.

So, for example, that might mean doing more repetitions, more sets, or a heavier weight week on week, and then you build this up over time.

It’s important to say don’t increase things too quickly. If you think that longevity is the aim here, what we’re hoping for is consistency. And that means no injury.

Typically what happens if someone tries to ramp up things too quickly, they’ll get injured or they will just burn out and frazzled, which means they won’t stick to their plan over the long term.

The Role of Nutrition

One of the ways to do this is to take a three-to-one ratio, which means over three weeks, you follow this progressive overload pattern, and then you have a rest or deload week.

This is a very common way of doing it and it might work perfectly for you. But if it doesn’t, don’t worry, everyone is different and especially if you’re a beginner, this is typically too much.

So you might consider something like a two-to-one ratio instead.

When you’re doing resistance training, you want to make the adaptations which are beneficial, so increasing or maintaining the amount of muscle that you have.

And to do that, you need to combine it with a well-planned diet. As a vegetarian, it can be slightly harder to get protein in your diet. So you want to make sure that all of your main meals include a good source of protein.

Bone Health and Exercise

Some great protein sources for vegetarians include legumes, tofu, tempeh, whole-grain carbohydrates, and low-fat dairy. Good amounts of muscle go hand in hand with good amounts of protein.

So it’s worth getting this right. Now there’s a fascinating thing that happens with heavy resistance training. When you load your bones, they notice this and they work on clearing out old bone tissue and adding new healthy bone tissue instead.

So, for example, when you squat, this affects your hips and your spine. And the end result is that your body wants to strengthen those areas so that if it’s faced with it again in the future, it’s going to be able to deal with it better.

This stimulation of your bones and your joints is fantastic to prevent that gradual decline with aging.

Conclusion: The Multi-Faceted Benefits

Now, as we get older, typically our bone density decreases. But by doing heavy resistance training, you can actually prevent that gradual decline happening.

So while doing some lighter resistance training is definitely beneficial, if possible, I always encourage someone to do heavy lifting as well.

This might seem a bit alien for some people, especially if they’ve never done it before. But it’s so beneficial. If you’re already comfortable doing this, then that’s awesome.

And I would encourage you to build it into your routine. But if you’re not comfortable, then it might be worth seeing if you can get a local personal trainer to help you or find someone reputable online to give you feedback.

Mental and Cognitive Benefits

One of the things I love about exercise is the positive mental benefits. Now, this is obviously purely anecdotal, but I feel amazing when I exercise.

I love getting out in the morning for a run. I love riding my bike, and I love going to the gym too. I feel invigorated, I feel strong, and when I exercise in the morning, I feel ready for the day.

It seems like I’m not the only one who feels like this. A systematic review in 2023 by Singh and colleagues showed that exercise was beneficial for reducing the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and psychological distress.

And I think that this is wonderful.

Exercise and Heart Health

Another area that resistance training can improve is your heart health. Did you know that the leading cause of death in the USA is heart disease?

So to me, it seems sensible to look after your heart. We know that resistance training can improve your heart health via two mechanisms.

The first is that regular training can increase the levels of HDL cholesterol, otherwise known as the good cholesterol, and then either maintain or reduce levels of LDL cholesterol or bad cholesterol. We know that a poor HDL to LDL ratio is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease or cardiovascular events.

So by improving this number, you can improve your heart health. Secondly, resistance training increases insulin sensitivity, which reduces the risk of type two diabetes.

Both of these things contribute to lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease. So it’s another way that resistance training can help with longevity because you’re going to reduce the risk of these diseases as you get older.

Final Thoughts

Personally, I think resistance training should be used alongside classic cardio exercise because combined, they are even more powerful.

My hope from this episode is that you’ve learned just how incredible resistance training can be for you and how it can help you to live longer in better health. If you did find this useful, then I would really appreciate it if you gave this a five-star review.

It won’t take a moment and it will help the podcast spread to more people to help vegetarians stay healthier and happier as they get older.

Studies used in this podcast and article:

Effectiveness of Physical Activity Interventions

Exercise for Cognitive Brain Health

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