Resistance Training, Addiction, and Longevity
A recent meta-analysis has lent credence to what many of us have suspected for a long time: resistance training leads to increased longevity.
This could be particularly beneficial to those in addiction recovery.
Addiction and life expectancy
Addiction generally shortens life expectancy. Going on data from the US, for instance, we can see that a cocaine addict’s life expectancy is just 44 years. This means an average loss of 44% of their natural lifespans.
In fact, six lines of cocaine a day (not too excessive an amount for long term, heavy users) can shorten life expectancy by 33 hours. A single line for a cocaine addict can mean 5 hours of life lost.
This gets a little worse with methadone and heroin use. A methadone addict can be expected to lose 38 years of life, with an average life expectancy of 40; for heroin, this is a forty-year loss, with an average life expectancy of just 37.
Alcoholism can reduce life expectancy by about 10-12 years, with a greater chance of chronic illness the earlier someone begins heavily drinking.
Then there is tobacco, one of the worlds’ biggest killers, and the primary cause of preventable deaths. It accounts for a fifth of deaths in the US, at a total of 480,000 deaths every year. Smokers can expect to lose a decade of their life – though this can be reversed in those who quite before the age of forty.
There are many factors that underpin addiction, from socioeconomic status to physical and mental health. These factors also affect mortality. Therefore, it can sometimes be unclear what is caused by addiction and what causes both addiction and premature death.
This is also all taken from data collected in the US. As such, statistics may be slightly worse due to a lack of decent social healthcare. The NHS is generally far better equipped to deal with addiction in the UK. Their services are also, importantly, free to all.
However, the point stands: addictive substances will more than likely shorten a user’s lifespan, killing them prematurely. Luckily, there is a solution: resistance training can improve longevity.
Resistance training and longevity
The first thing we need to do to reverse this and diminish the effect of addictive substances on people’s lifespans is to provide resources for recovery. Quitting and addictive substance will always help.
As above, if you quit smoking before the age of forty, you near enough undo the effects it has on your mortality. In fact, you can expect a 90% reduction in threats to your health.
There are also plenty of lifestyle factors we can use to undo the effects and extend your expected lifespan if you are recovering from addiction.
Exercise is key to this. Specifically, resistance training has recently been proven to extend longevity.
Exercise and resistance training for longevity
We have known for a long time that living a generally active lifestyle, regularly taking part in moderate aerobic exercise, can be very beneficial for your health and wellbeing. An active lifestyle generally equates to greater longevity, as well as better health throughout life. The risk of developing certain chronic conditions and diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, and so on is greatly diminished by regular exercise.
However, resistance training and its role in longevity has been less well understood.
What is resistance training?
By resistance training, we mean exercises that put your muscles through heightened resistance, through a wide range of motion. It will generally elicit a hypertrophic response (it will bring about muscle growth).
Weight lifting is perhaps the most obvious example, though there are others. Bodyweight resistance training like calisthenic, Pilates and yoga can all help, if they are vigorous enough. So too can full body, high intensity cardiovascular training, like rowing and swimming, that adequately fatigues the muscles.
A research team spread over three Japanese institutes recently pooled data from 16 separate studies into one meta-analysis. They were looking at longevity and disease risk where participants undertook regular resistance training.
They found that as little as 30-90 minutes of weekly resistance training can decrease your risk of premature death. It will diminish your risk of dying from all causes.
Optimal resistance training for longevity
This means that we should all be doing what resistance training we can.
However, they also found that regularly taking part in resistance training for more than three hours per week can be bad for you. It can increase your risk of premature death by around 10%.
This points to an optimum amount of resistance training for improving longevity and keeping yourself healthy. Aim for 30 minutes to around 180.
Optimal timings can also vary by disease. For example, around 40 minutes to an hour per week of strength training is optimal for reducing your risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease. Anything more is redundant. However, the risk of diabetes diminishes the more you do. If you have a history of diabetes in your family, you may therefore want to aim at the higher end of our 30-180 minute window.
Resistance training is also not a panacea. It cannot cure chronic diseases, merely make it less likely that you will suffer from them. It will not force your body to live longer, it will just decrease your risk of dying prematurely. The study also showed that resistance training has no benefit for certain types of cancer – pancreatic, kidney and bowel cancer seemed to be unaffected by it.
Your training regime
So what should your training regime look like as you recover from addiction?
Strength training is a good place to start, as we have seen. It will reduce your risk of dying young. It will also bring about some more immediate, tangible benefits. For example, you will obviously have stronger muscles and bones, each of which can be greatly weakened by the lifestyle factors surrounding addiction. It will also bring about positive hormonal changes and cellular regeneration.
It will give you more energy in the long run, thanks in large part to improvements in circulation tied with hormonal changes. You will find your mood elevated, you may find yourself becoming more confidant, you’ll have somewhere healthy to hang out (the gym) and a good routine by which to live.
Therefore, you will live a longer, healthier life if you take part in resistance training.
This doesn’t mean you should only take part in resistance training, though. Strength training and hypertrophy are only a part of the picture. You will also improve your health and longevity by taking part in regular aerobic exercise. Try walking, jogging, running, swimming, cycling, or dancing. Aim to do a little every day – half an hour most days will put you in line with most experts’ views on optimal timings.
Make sure you take care of mobility and joint health, too. Always warm up before exercise. Take your joints through their full ranges of motion. Stretch afterwards. Consider taking up some kind of mobility training – yoga and Pilates are particularly good, and as above, can count towards your resistance training quota for the week.
Cause vs correlation
The causal relationship behind resistance training’s effects on longevity is understood imperfectly. This means, basically, that we know it can help us to live longer, healthier lives, but we don’t necessarily know why. The authors of the meta-analysis didn’t look into this – they were simply finding the correlation between resistance training and longevity.
They also didn’t look into the reasons behind the 30-180 minute time window. We don’t know why going over three hours per week might be detrimental, why it might contribute to premature death.
More in-depth exploratory studies will be needed to flesh out the full picture.
The analysis also had several limitations.
For example, it only looked at a small number of studies, which is rare for a meta-analysis. Though the number of participants in each study was high, this small range of studies is a limiting factor. Most participants shared similar racial backgrounds, too – most were North American or western European. The results may not be as accurate or relevant for those of different ethnicities.
A lot of the data was also self-reported. This means that researchers didn’t study the participants’ exercise habits per se. Rather, they questioned them about their habits. Many people overestimate how much they work out, or how hard. Some may even outright lie, caught in the moment and not wanting to look bad.
However, even imperfect data can give us something. We don’t know fully why resistance training might increase longevity. We don’t know how applicable the guidelines are for everyone. However, the correlation between resistance training and longevity is incredibly strong.
We can see, for sure, that resistance training of some form or another will help you to live a longer, healthier life. This makes it a key resource in overcoming addiction and treading the path of recovery.
What you should do next
The study’s findings are important but not too revelatory – at least not for those of us in the fitness industry who have been seeing these effects for years. In fact, the findings are broadly inline with what most medical organisations already recommend: the NHS already suggests that all adults aged 19-24 should aim to take part in strength/resistance training at least twice per week.
The findings simply confirm what we already knew and shed a little light on how you should train.
This has a lot of value, nevertheless. Healthcare guidelines are not always that accurate. They usually represent a compromise between what is best and what people are likely to do. The idea of two resistance training sessions per week is nebulous. These sessions could be three hours or five minutes. Knowing that you should be putting in 90-180 minutes per week is far more useful.
It is also useful to know the kind of damage that resistance training can undo. We can see clearly that it can help to offset some of the dangers to mortality brought about by active addiction.
If you are in recovery, you should look into setting up a reasonable, manageable, yet helpful exercise program.
Aim for half an hour of daily light- to moderate- cardio. Go for a walk or jog, cycle to work, use a pedometer to make sure you’re getting your 10,000 steps in. Also aim for 90-180 minutes of resistance training per day. This can be bodyweight or free weight. It can be powerlifting, Strongman or bodybuilding. Either way, take your muscles through full ranges of motion, break a sweat, and put the time in.
You’ll live longer for it.
You can access exercise classes and yoga classes through our Wellness Hub, which will give you unlimited access to qualified professionals and their teachings.
- Just 30–90 minutes of resistance training weekly decreases risk of premature death https://medicalxpress.com/news/2022-03-minutes-resistance-weekly-decreases-premature.html