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I Strength Trained for a Year--Here's What Happened

No dinky weights! Photo from Unsplash.

After years of being frustrated by a lack of energy and carrying around more fat than I wanted to, last year I finally regained enough of my health to start...lifting weights. That might not be conventional wisdom, but it makes more sense than eating less or simply moving more to lose weight and be more energetic. I started in March of last year with a few sessions with a personal trainer who showed me how to work out without hurting my neck. Since then, I've been lifting weights twice a week at home, missing workouts only when I'm sick or doing a lot of landscaping. I use 10- to 25-pound weights and a stability ball. After eight months, I lost enough fat that I had to buy new pants, but more importantly, I've improved my metabolic health and reduced my risk of various diseases of aging. The lab tests I took five months in showed a big drop in fasting insulin--from 4.4 in 2021 to 3.7. Other metabolic markers stayed about the same. 

If you're thinking this was because of a big weight loss, it wasn't. The machine at the personal trainer's gym showed I started with only 6% visceral fat, well within the normal range for women. I lost less than 10 pounds and the before and after photos I posted hardly got a comment, they were so similar. I didn't change they way I ate. I did strength training.

Strength is so important that grip strength has been proposed as a biomarker. "Supporting this proposition, evidence is provided herein that shows grip strength is largely consistent as an explanator of concurrent overall strength, upper limb function, bone mineral density, fractures, falls, malnutrition, cognitive impairment, depression, sleep problems, diabetes, multimorbidity, and quality of life. Evidence is also provided for a predictive link between grip strength and all-cause and disease-specific mortality, future function, bone mineral density, fractures, cognition and depression, and problems associated with hospitalization."(1) People with diabetes tend to have lower grip strength compared to non-diabetics(2). Sarcopenia (age-related loss of muscle mass, strength and function) is associated with falls and fractures, poor quality of life, increased mortality, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline, and depression and anxiety(3).

Some of these things are self-evident, but does strength training really improve cognition, depression and diabetes or are these just associations? "Muscles serve as storage facilities for consumed sugar and carbohydrates," says an article in Everyday Health(4). Strength training also improves insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance and boosts metabolism(5). And it's widely accepted that some cases of depression are exercise deficiency syndrome and Alzheimer's disease is type 3 diabetes. 

I suspected a link between weakness, diabetes and dementia eleven years ago when my father, who seemed to be made of iron even in his 60s, rapidly went downhill a few years before he died. Here's what he and my mother were eating:

Four trash bags of chips, crackers, cookies, pretzels, potato mix, gravy mix, cake mix, cornbread mix, macaroni and cheese mix, oatmeal, sugar and grapes. No wonder my parents ended up frail and diabetic.

You need protein to build muscle, and probably most of us need to limit carbs to avoid putting on fat. L. reuteri yogurt helps build muscle, and Bacillus coagulans helps with muscle recovery. I use L. reuteri from BioGaia and B. coagulans Unique IS-2 from Culterelle. After I was rehabbing my garage in 2020 and left feeling like I'd been run over after a few hours' work, I was blown away later that year at my speedy recovery from an injury. The only thing I was doing differently was eating yogurt made with B. coagulans. 

It's hard to exercise if you're in pain. Stretches have helped me so much in eliminating TMJ pain, headaches and kinks that I've added a new YouTube channel to my video feed. SpineCare Decompression is run by a chiropractor who shows you how to relieve joint and muscle pain in minutes with stretching exercises and find long-term relief with strength training exercises. (If you don't see the video feed, click on the three horizontal lines at the top right of my blog and scroll down.) 

You can't exercise your way out of a bad diet--but you also can't diet and supplement your way to fitness (although they can help). When you lose weight, you also lose muscle and therefore strength, and research shows that makes you more prone to debilitating illnesses and injuries. Strength training is a way to lose or maintain weight and stay fit.

How I train

3 sets, 8-12 reps each of upper body, core, back and lower body exercises with 10- to 25-pound dumbbells or a stability ball, repeated a second time with different exercises, twice a week. Each workout takes about an hour.

Sources

  1. Bohannon RW. Grip Strength: An Indispensable Biomarker For Older Adults. Clin Interv Aging. 2019 Oct 1;14:1681-1691. doi: 10.2147/CIA.S194543. PMID: 31631989; PMCID: PMC6778477.
  2. AI-generated content from Brave.com. Sources: Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, Science Daily, BMC Geriatrics, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, EverydayHealth.com, and WebMD.com. https://search.brave.com/search?q=strength+training+and+blood+sugar&source=web&summary=1&summary_og=62124d6f85b214af7271e7
  3. AI-generated content from Brave.com. Sources: Nature.com, Current Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Reports, Frontiers in Neurology, Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, and Progress in Rehabilitation Medicine. https://search.brave.com/search?q=sarcopenia+risks&source=web&summary=1&summary_og=5cbd85b0edd191f0607ae1
  4. "Why You Should Be Lifting Weights if You Have Type 2 Diabetes by K. Aleisha Fetters." EverydayHealth.com Updated on December 12, 2023. https://www.everydayhealth.com/type-2-diabetes/living-with/weight-lifting-get-strong/
  5. Strasser B, Pesta D. Resistance training for diabetes prevention and therapy: experimental findings and molecular mechanisms. Biomed Res Int. 2013;2013:805217. doi: 10.1155/2013/805217. Epub 2013 Dec 22. PMID: 24455726; PMCID: PMC3881442. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3881442/

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