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Strength: The Fountain of Youth

Let's face it, we’re all biased towards stuff we enjoy.

Ask a yoga practitioner what the most important thing is, and they’ll say flexibility.

Ask a tightrope walker, and they'll say balance.

Ask a runner or a cyclist, and they’ll say endurance.

Twenty bucks says that strength won’t even get a mention.

After all, strength calls up all the wrong images: meat heads, poseurs and gym rats.

It’s just not something that intelligent, civilized folks need to be concerned about.

Or so they thought.

Our Metabolic Engine

Whether we like it or not, strength is the basis for all human movement.

Fundamentally, our skeleton is a complex system of levers with muscles pulling across the joints to produce motion.

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the hips, shoulders, knees or elbows - the same principle applies.

Check out the guy doing a dumbell curl in the image below.

CurlThe biceps crosses the elbow joint, so when it contracts it pulls the lower arm and the upper arm together.

This allows him to do things like climb El Capitan, carry his kids, and drink a cold beer.

And the stronger the muscle is able to contract, the easier all those tasks become.

It also makes it clear that without strength there can be no movement.




Strength is so fundamental to human movement that in its absence all we can do is lie down.

That's why we don't sleep standing up, and why we stay in bed when we've got flu.

And without strength there can be no endurance.

That makes perfect sense when we think about it.

After all, you can’t ride a bike for two hours if you’re not strong enough to turn the pedals in the first place.

And without strength we won’t be able to hit any yoga pose, no matter how basic.

Strength is the foundation for how we interact with the world, and the more of it we have, the easier that interaction becomes.

That’s why it’s the husband, not the wife, who puts the suitcases into the trunk, carries the kids when they’re tired, and unscrews the tight lid from the pickle jar.

Now just imagine how much easier your wife/partner would find everyday life if she had your physical strength.

She'd feel like a superhero, right?

Super mom

Then apply that same degree of strength improvement to yourself.

What do you think would happen to your golf drive, tennis serve, posture, daily function, and general well-being?

They’d be off-the-chart better.

It's like swapping your car's engine for a 5-liter V8.

"But, Tim, I'm happy with my 2-liter motor!" you may say.

After all, you've got enough strength to keep up with the kids, do all the things you want, and deal with most of the stuff life throws at you.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?

Unfortunately, our bodies aren't wired that way.

Life is a Strength Sport

The problem is once we hit 40 or so, our strength starts to slide by around 10-15 % per decade.

So by the time folks hit the average lifespan of 80 years-old, their strength could be down by 50 % or more.

Now, that sounds like a real kick in the nuts, but what would it actually be like?

Well, imagine that the weight of everything in the world - including you - doubled right now.

So instead of weighing 200 lbs, you suddenly weigh 400.

And those suitcases you're carrying? They now feel like 100 lbs each.


Everyday life suddenly seems like a whole different deal.

And the worst part is it happens so gradually that we don’t even notice our strength slipping away.

But there's so much more to strength than just being able to lift stuff.

A major study in the British Medical Journal concluded:

Muscular strength is inversely and independently associated with death from all causes and cancer in men, even after adjusting for cardiorespiratory fitness and other potential confounders

That's basically a science-y way of saying that stronger people are less likely to die from any cause.

Whether we're talking illness, injury or falling into a crevasse.

A paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition identified that increased muscle mass does a number of awesome things, such as:

• Playing a key role in preventing chronic diseases (diabetes, osteoporosis)

• Helping to maintain body fat at a healthy level

• Improving static and dynamic balance

Now the last one isn't just good news if you're a tightrope walker or downhill mountain biker.

Unfortunately, weak muscles go hand in hand with both poor balance and weak bones.

That's why older folks tend to fall over in the first place, and then hurt themselves badly when they do.

This is serious stuff.

So do your mom and dad a favor, and tell them they need to get stronger too.

Bulletproofing Yourself

Now this may sound like pretty depressing stuff, but here's some great news.

We all have the ability to get much, much stronger  - even folks in their 80s and 90s.

In fact, it's completely possible to be stronger and in better shape in your 40s or 50s than you were in your 20s.

It's never too late to start, and you'll be amazed at the strength levels you can achieve.

Plus it really is a win-win situation.

On one hand you’re bulletproofing yourself over the long term.

But it’s also making life so much easier and so much more fun right now.

You’ll ski better, ride better, [insert chosen activity] better, have more mojo, and be just plain more awesome.

It's like strapping a turbocharger onto your body.

So let's figure out how to do it.

→ Read Part II: How to Get Stronger

- Tim

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Types of Contraction by OpenStax College CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

References: BMJ 2008;337:a439Am J Clin Nutr 2006;84:475–82

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