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Biomarkers by William Evans, Ph.D. and Irwin Rosenberg, MD is one of the most important books I have ever read. The authors present 10 of the most reliable biological markers of aging and show that all ten of these markers are directly regulated by muscle mass. Weight training or strength/resistance training is the key. The authors claim that people do not need to become frail and weak as they age. They have shown that people of any age can engage in strength training programs and significantly REVERSE the biological markers of aging.
I read Biomarkers shortly after it was published in 1992. After reading it, I immediately purchased a Parabody universal gym and set it up in my garage. Now, I’ve been doing regular strength training several times a week for nearly 25 years.
Biological Age vs Chronological Age: You do NOT have to age biologically at the same rate you age chronologically. You will continue to have a birthday every year, but you DO NOT have to lose muscle mass and strength while you gain fat and develop insulin resistance and diabetes. Strength training is the key to this. The 10 biomarkers that respond to strength training are muscle mass, strength, metabolic rate, percent body fat, aerobic capacity, blood sugar control, cholesterol/HDL ratio, blood pressure, bone density and body temperature.
Continuing Research: After reading Biomarkers, I began to follow the subsequent scientific research that Dr. Evans conducted on the use of strength training in frail elderly people. The improvements that elderly people can make when they engage in strength training exercise programs are so incredible, they almost seem like science fiction.
In one study, men aged 60-72 engaged in strength exercises with their legs. The men used weight that was 80% of their 1-rep max and exercised 3 times per week for 12 weeks. The average increase in knee flexor strength was 227% and the average increase in knee extensor strength was 107%. CT scans documented an average 11.4% increase in muscle mass.
Aerobic Capacity: In the study cited above, VO2 max also increased significantly which shows that increasing muscle mass increases maximal aerobic power. This suggests that age-related loss in muscle mass may be a critical factor causing reduced aerobic capacity that is often seen in elderly individuals.
Amazing Gains: In another study, Evans and his colleagues examined the effects of high-intensity resistance training on a group of frail, institutionalized elderly men and women ranging from 87 to 96 years old. After only 8 weeks of strength training, the 10 subjects in this study increased muscle strength by almost 180% and muscle size by 11%.(1)
More recently, a similar intervention on frail nursing home residents demonstrated not only increases in muscle strength and size, but increased gait speed, stair climbing power, and balance. In addition, spontaneous activity levels increased significantly whereas the activity of a non-exercised control group was unchanged.
It should be pointed out that this was a very old, very frail population with of multiple chronic diseases. The increase in overall levels of physical activity have been a common observation numerous other studies conducted by Evans. Because muscle weakness is a primary deficit in many older individuals, increased strength may stimulate engagement in more aerobic activities like walking and cycling.
CrossFit: My personal strength training program has evolved over the years. In 2011 I a friend of mine introduced me to CrossFit. Crossfit is incredibly intense and demanding...and I fell in love with it. The exercises are different every day but one thing that remains constant is the degree of intensity. Every CrossFit class is designed to push an individual close to their maximum physical exertion capability. I went to CrossFit 3 times a week for about 5 years. Now that I'm 75 years old, I've discontinued CrossFit and joined our local YMCA where I lift weights with a friend 5 mornings a week. One thing I'm sure of, I'll engage in some form of strength training on a regular basis until I die.
Gregg Gassman, the founder of CrossFit said the following:
“The needs of Olympic athletes and out grandparents differ by degree not kind.” I think that is a great message for people of all ages.
My Message About Intense Physical Exercise: I encourage everyone, especially the elderly, to engage in some form of intense physical exercise several times a week. Start slowly…but get started. Most importantly, find a good coach or trainer to work with. A good trainer/coach will get you started with weights that are appropriate for your age and level of physical fitness.
Resistance Exercise is NOT a Competitive Sport: Some high-end athletes do compete in programs like the CrossFit Games and the National Pro Grid League (NPGL). However, for most of us, resistance exercise is not and should not be competitive. You are just working with yourself and for yourself.
Strength Gains: Resistance exercise focuses primarily on the large muscle groups (shoulders, arms, hips, legs & spine) which are important for everyday activities. Form is more important than the amount of weight you are lifting.
The amount of weight that you lift needs to gradually increase as your strength builds. On average, people increase their weights every 2 or 3 weeks. In the resistance training studies with elderly individuals, Dr. Evans reports that most people experience a 10-15% increase in their strength per week during the first 8 weeks of training.
Used copies of Biomarkers are available on amazon.com for $0.01. That’s right, you can purchase a copy of this game-changing book for one penny (plus shipping). High-intensity resistance exercise programs have been shown to have dramatic effects in people of all ages, especially the elderly. Once you get started, you too can begin to make gains in your strength and fitness that seem like science fiction.