The Long Game: Fitness and Longevity
News stories about research on technological breakthroughs that may extend life have been appearing lately.
MIT Technology Review reported on a Swiss conference for ultra rich investors where all manner of life extension devices and innovations were paraded. They report encouraging results from studies of mice and yeast molds. However, they smell heavily of the latest Silicon Valley con game.
The idea of effortless life extension has been around seemingly forever. Remember the fruitless search for an enchanted drinking fountain in Florida swamps by Ponce de Leon?
Much close to home and much more accessible are recent research findings on things that actually appear to make a difference in longevity and the quality of those years.
Most readers of this newsletter will not find the results surprising. However, there may be some nuances that wont be universally popular.
The Big Factors: Strength and VO2 Max
The two biggest factors in promoting a longer and better life turn out to be things that many of us work for already: strength and cardiovascular fitness.
Cardio is not a popular pastime with many devoted strength enthusiasts, but it turns out that the single most powerful predictor of longevity is VO2 Max.
Basically this measure shows how effectively the body can mobilize energy for doing things.
The key is to develop and maintain a solid level of baseload aerobic conditioning. This is the ability to run, cycle or swim for extended periods.
As someone who has enjoyed running most of my life, this comes as no great surprise. I always believed (without evidence other than my own experience) that aerobic training gave me a big edge on strength training and recovery.
It turns out that if the goal is high quality longevity, my intuition about the benefits of aerobic exercise were correct.
The second element promoting longevity turns out to be strength. Not size, but strength.
Evidently strong muscle tissue has a huge positive impact on the production and function of mitochondria in our cells which translates to our ability to metabolize glucose and fat.
Strong muscles help prevent metabolic diseases and aid the body in producing many helpful chemicals.
Best Return on Effort
Most strength lifters I know would sooner eat a loaded diaper than do aerobic training.
However, there are some ways to build up VO2 max without running on a treadmill or (gasp!) running outside.
Besides the options of rowing machines, swimming or cycling, it is possible to do high repetition weight movements that promote sustained rapid breathing.
One of the more famous is of course the kettlebell snatch test of performing a specific number of reps in a short time.
For men under age 50 the standard is 100 reps with a 24kg kettlebell. For men over age 50 the standard is 50 reps in 3 minutes with a 20 Kg kettlebell.
I can attest that both of those challenges are brutal.but rewarding.
However there are variations that can be used for regular training that will improve cardio fitness and not push you to the limit.
One of my favorites is doing timed sets. This is lifting a weight a specific number of times in 30-60 seconds and doing this repeatedly for up to 10 minutes.
For example do 5 kettlebell snatches every 30 seconds. Do 5 with the right hand then set the bell down. When the timer reaches 30 seconds do 5 with the left hand. Each minute you have done 10 reps.
After the second minute, you will probably be breathing hard.
Gradually add minutes to the program. Initially it may be difficult to do more than 3 minutes. Work up to doing 4 minutes, then 5, etc.
Of course other exercises can be used such as:
- Clean and push press (barbell, dumbbell or kettlebell)-return weight to floor each rep
- Kettlebell swing
- Front squats
- Power clean
Or any other compound lift that strikes your fancy.
High rep sets
This involves using a light weight and doing an extreme number of reps in a set which will get you breathing very hard.
For example, you can do kettlebell swings or snatches with 25-200 reps.
A few years back my kettlebell Sensi told me to work up to doing 100 nonstop reps in the snatch with one hand.then switch the weight to the other handwithout putting the weight down. This was character building.and upped my aerobic conditioning.
I suggest you begin with something more modest.such as 25 reps nonstop with each hand.
Quality longevity means feeling great every day, being able to do things you want to do, and staying away from the diseases that kill off so many underconditioned people (diabetes, heart disease, stroke, etc.)
Im blessed to be able to feel this way at my tender age (82) and cant wait to get out and run then play with my barbell toys.