Why Strength Training is Fundamental to Health and to Preventing Cognitive Decline
On lifestyle medicine and against Big Pharma: Selected notes on Longevity Simplified (2022) and The Barbell Prescription (2016).
As an American citizen by birth and passport, I want on one occasion to strongly agree with many of our international (and even domestic) critics. Thank God we are the barbarians, I say, because we would never survive a barbarian invasion.
C. P. Cavafy, “Waiting for the Barbarians” (1898; translation 1975)
Why such harsh judgment?
At American Exile, we reviewed earlier the decades-long surging trends in obesity, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, Type II diabetes, and other lifestyle diseases (16 May 2022). The astonishing rise in both American prescription usage — Polypharmacy USA, the data dashboard — and the contamination of our water supplies by the same (6 June 2022). Additionally, the public health catastrophe underway as indicated by 1 in 10 American children, and 1 in 6 American teens aged 15-19, suffering from NAFLD: non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (25 June 2022).
According to the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, “80% or more of all health care spending in the U.S. is tied to the treatment of conditions rooted in unhealthy lifestyle choices” (2021):
“Diseases and conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity and multiple types of cancer are among the most common and costly of all health conditions — but they are also preventable.”
Preventable. Even as the MSM and our Corporate-Captured-Administrative State normalize pathology (16 May 2022), we must resist and remember: chronic sickness from lifestyle diseases is optional, not mandatory. Prescription drug dependency for the same, a choice — until it becomes an addiction. Then a much more difficult choice to quit or reduce as feasible. To cite ACLM (2021) again:
“Lifestyle medicine addresses root causes by focusing on the lifestyle choices that give rise to these diseases in the first place. When implemented, lifestyle medicine can prevent, treat, and even reverse these conditions.”
Prevent. Or, if that horse is out of the barn — and life happens, we all know: Treat and — as far as possible — Reverse.
Physical Therapist & Triathlete Melaine Carvell would own the Barbarian Invasion
A Healthier Life — Commitment, not Complications
One Dr. Howard J. Luks, a Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon and Sports Medicine Physician, has recently published an outstanding starter guide to taking control over one’s health — Longevity ... Simplified: Living A Longer, Healthier Life Shouldn’t Be Complicated (2022). He directly engages two key conflicts of interest, Big Pharma and Big Food:
“The forces seem like they are stacked against us. Drug companies do not benefit if you achieve metabolic fitness on your own without their pills. Big food is not our friend.”
Truths simply and clearly expressed — the good doctor has not forgotten his oaths.
Longevity ... Simplified (2022) by Dr. Luks has a great deal of overlap — and some worthwhile differences — with The Barbell Prescription: Strength Training for Life After Forty (2016) by Jonathon Sullivan, MD, PhD, a recently retired Emergency Room Physician who now specializes in — wait for it — strength training and lifestyle medicine for people over forty.
Not Everyone Survives Their First Heart Attack
Similar to Dr. Luks, but with more detail and passion, Dr. Sullivan offers his own warning against relying primarily on Big Pharma. I will quote at length his hypothetical yet typical case study (2016), a Homer Simpson-esque middle-aged Phil now suffering from metabolic syndrome and soon enough to die of cardiac arrest:
None of Phil’s pills could possibly address the multiple factors that lay at the root of his poor health: physical inactivity, epigenetic and environmental factors, diet, aging, obesity, and sarcopenia. Phil’s medicines could moderate the effects of his disease, but not the cause.
Let there be no misunderstanding: I am a physician, and I am glad we have these drugs. Patients with hypertension need blood pressure medication. Patients with diabetes need insulin or oral hypoglycemics to control their glucose. Antidepressants, analgesics, vasopressors, hormonal therapies, anticancer agents, antibiotics — without them, my ability to relieve pain and preserve life and limb would be no better than that of a premodern apothecary peddling leeches and mercury. But I am painfully aware of the limitations of these agents.
Modern drugs don’t get to the root of the problem. And they never will.
Because health will never come in a pill.
I have my own list of early dead who took all the drugs they were prescribed, ate SAD (standard American diet), and never found time for the gym or the great outdoors. To cite just two examples, not everyone survives their first major heart attack, and both TC and MB checked out before turning 55.
Both men, highly educated and professionally successful. No “deaths of despair” here. But rather than taking control of their own bodies and taking responsibility for their own health, they trusted Big Pharma and popped all the pills and kept grinding, getting sicker while making billionaires richer.
I do not exist so that the wealthy and powerful might become more so. Tell me, dear reader, what is your purpose in life?
Our discussion here will focus primarily on the overlap, the considerable and vital areas of strong agreement between Luks (2022) and Sullivan (2016) — an overlap of agreement supported by a wealth of clinical experience and peer-reviewed studies. Not brought to you by Pfizer.
Sarcopenia: The Age-Related Loss of Muscle Mass
According to Dr. Sullivan (2016): “Exercise is the most powerful medicine in the world.” According to Dr. Luks (2022): “for those of you who view exercise as painful work — movement is our best medicine.”
Both doctors recommend moving weights — engaging in resistance training: “Push and pull heavy things,” as Dr. Luks (2022) phrases it. “What aging adults do in the Arena of Life,” as Dr. Sullivan (2016) details it, is
“sit down, stand up, push things away, pull things in, lift stuff up off the floor, and heave stuff over their heads. These simple, natural movement patterns are the building blocks of our lives as physical beings, and taken together they encompass the functional range of motion of the human organism.”
Why push and pull, why squat and deadlift with “heavy things”? (And one’s body weight is often enough to start with). If we do not, we lose lean muscle mass as we age: sarcopenia. “Sarcopenia”, Luks (2022) comments, “should be a four-letter word” because
“Muscle mass is not only critical for performance but it has also been proven to predict longevity and a longer healthspan. Loss of muscle mass is also predictive of worse recovery after injury or surgery. Our muscle tissue accounts for more than 50 percent of our body mass and is essential for metabolic health.”
On the same, Sullivan (2016) argues:
“Muscle tissue loss is nothing short of a catastrophe. The impact of muscle atrophy and sarcopenia on health care costs is astronomical (Janssen et al., 2004; Fielding et al., 2011) and the impact on quality of life and human suffering is simply incalculable.”
Strong words. But not just rhetoric.
Insulin Resistance and Metabolic Imbalance
Why? Because the loss of muscle mass leads directly to metabolic imbalance and insulin resistance. We are on the path to obesity, type II diabetes, and other lifestyle diseases. Sullivan (2016) explains the biochemical processes in detail. But in brief (Sullivan, 2016; image credit, the same and cited under fair use):
“Unused, detrained muscle downregulates insulin receptors, turns off protein synthesis, and begins to eat itself to provide calories and amino acids to the rest of the body, which, because of decreased insulin signaling, thinks it’s hungry. The result is a progressive loss of muscle tissue and strength.”
In contrast, retaining lean muscle mass means retaining insulin receptors and hence insulin sensitivity (the antithesis of insulin resistance). Why does this matter?
Because insulin resistance is, in the words of Vibhu Parcha, MD: “a precursor to development of diabetes and potentially fatal cardiovascular events such as heart attack, stroke and cardiac death” (20 Sept. 2021). Or, as Dr. Luks (2022) puts it:
“Insulin resistance in the presence of excess calories will accelerate the time course of the most common diseases that lead to our demise, shortening our healthspan. Insulin resistance will accelerate the pathological changes of atherosclerosis, hypertension, fatty liver, NASH (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis), dementia, etc.”
So let us agree that suffering from insulin resistance is not desirable. Which bring us back briefly to Dr. Parcha, the primary researcher for a University of Alabama study which found “40 percent of young American adults have insulin resistance and cardiovascular risk factors” (20 Sept. 2021).
40% of young American adults have insulin resistance
State of the Union: 40% of young American adults have insulin resistance. Yet another public health catastrophe underway. But entirely preventable. Through movement, strength training, and better food choices. In the words of Dr. Luks (2022):
“It is easier to prevent the onset of disease than it is to treat it. When optimizing your health and longevity, prioritizing muscle mass and muscle strength are critically important considerations.”
But as both Luks (2022) and Sullivan (2016) explain in detail, even and especially people already suffering from lifestyle diseases benefit from strength training.
Never Too Late or Too Early to Start
Luks (2022) notes: "It is never too late, nor too early to start a resistance exercise program." Sullivan (2021) destroys the usual excuses in an entertaining YouTube video:
“Think you're too old? Think you're too sick? Think you're too inflexible, or too uncoordinated, too fat, too skinny, too weak to train? … If you can move, you can train.”
Train Basic Movements Not Individual Muscles
Push and pull, squat and deadlift — with “heavy things.” The “heavy” part is relative — weights other than your own body to start might even be optional. The movement patterns largely are not. Why not? Sullivan (2016) explains it well in detail:
“The advantages of focusing on movements instead of muscles goes much deeper. There are about 640 muscles in the human body. But just a few basic movement patterns capture input from the vast majority of this muscle mass. If we take the basic patterns of squatting down and standing up, pushing something away, lifting something overhead, and lifting something heavy off the floor, we will strengthen and condition the entire musculoskeletal system, and make all of those movements stronger throughout the natural range of motion, increasing both strength and mobility.”
Luks (2022), in addition to pushing and pulling heavy things, emphasizes that “you want to be exercising your legs, thighs, calf, and glutes” — “squats, hip hinge exercises, and calf raises should be part of your routine” — and you should “start resistance training with your legs.” (Image below © Luks 2022, cited under fair use).
Sullivan (2016) and Luks (2022) do take different approaches to getting this done— to training basic movements and hence muscle groups. You may decide for yourself which you like better. If you have a cardio background — you are or were a runner, mountain biker, tennis player, or so on — you will likely prefer Luks (2022) to start. If you have a strength background or were active in contact sports, you will likely prefer Sullivan. Have a look at the two men from their YouTube channels (Luks; Sullivan) — which one, accounting for biological sex — has a body type similar to yours?
The Barbell Prescription (2016) is much more information-rich — I learned so much from it that I found little new in Luks (2022). But If I had to make a recommendation to someone who is unsure or new to most of this, start with Luks (2022) Longevity ... Simplified. Perhaps no better starting guide. But let your journey continue. I return to Sullivan (2016) anytime my motivation begins to falter. But I have other examples —negative ones — also to inspire me. Start the movement, and the motivation will follow. Take care of the body, and protecting the brain and mind will also follow.
Strength Training Protects Your Brain
A stroke is obviously a neurological event. Likewise, I have a cousin a good bit younger than me who had a heart attack on the job awhile back. Put on the weight quickly after he stopped with the sports, but was still American normal. He’s now permanently disabled — not because of his heart condition. Before they got it beating again, he suffered serious brain damage.
We won’t discuss explicitly how this impacted his family, and his abilities as a husband and as a father of two children. Suffice to say, he now lives with his mother who looks after him. What happens after my aunt dies (as she is likely to die before him)? Will he move in with his sister — and her family?
When people hear stories like this, and we all know similar stories, they naturally think that cardio training is the best or only exercise solution to prevent or delay such events. Not strength training. They might even understand strength training as counterproductive. But this is wrong. Do some of both.
Luks (2022) devotes an entire chapter of Longevity ... Simplified, chapter 3 — “Delaying Dementia,” to the prevention of cognitive decline and disability. One key take-away: “Exercise and muscle mass dramatically affect [decrease] our risk of developing many chronic diseases, dementia included.” Not just cardio, but muscle mass earned and retained through strength training. Get stronger, and everything body-wise is better.
We must both move (cardio) and “push and pull heavy things” (strength training). Both. In a subchapter on “Neurological Health,” Sullivan (2016) provides an avalanche of scholarship testifying to the benefits of exercise which includes strength training as well as cardio [sources linked, original footnote numbers retained]:
“The effect of exercise on growth factor release , neurotransmitter systems , vascular signaling molecules, antioxidant molecules, the growth of new cellular power plants (mitochondria) , the growth of new blood vessels, and a beneficial effect on the progression of vascular disease in the brain (as in the heart), have all been cited as mechanisms by which exercise promotes brain promotes brain health, fights cognitive impairment, and impacts on the development of dementia , including Alzheimer’s dementia [24a; 24b; 24c; 24d]. … Exercise promotes brain plasticity and decreases the loss of brain tissue in aging [25a; 25b; 25c], and is increasingly prescribed for patients with stroke  and Parkinsonism . On the whole, the research literature strongly indicates that exercise is critical for maintaining brain function in aging .”
But exercise and lifestyle medicine are not brought to you by Pfizer.
What Matters: Your Efforts, Your Daily Choices
We discussed elsewhere (30 May 2022; 16 May 2022) the emergent Neo-Feudal American normal for the vast majority of people who accept their place in the Diversity Inclusion Equity caste system. (DIE caste, for short: the new social contract). As you transition from a Citizen of the Republic to a Subject of the Administrative State, look forward to a shortened lifespan of chronic illness, poly-pharmacy dependency, restricted social and physical mobility, along with wage-serfdom and crippling personal debt to which your medical issues will contribute.
Or you can resist. This is so much more than a battle of ideas or ideologies. More than even a “rape of the mind.” This is about the emergence of a bio-medical security state, and with that the end to bodily autonomy and the end to human liberty.
You think those previous statements exaggerated or hyperbole. Perhaps grossly so. Despite what you’ve witnessed the past two years, which both continues but was “only temporary.” Very well.
When legally and even by mandate you are drugged with pharmaceuticals from womb to grave (6 June 2022; 14 May 2022). When daily you eat borderline-addictive highly-processed “food products” which impact both immediately and long-term your energy levels, thought processes, and emotional states. When physically you are restricted and professionally face loss of employment if you do not submit to a medical intervention which does nothing to either treat or stop the spread of the disease it claims to target, but does present up to lethal health complications (2 June 2022; 5 Feb. 2022). When recognized not is your own natural (recovered) immunity from that same disease, despite the massive amounts of data showing for this disease the clear superiority of natural immunity to vaccine-induced immunity (14 Mar. 2022; 10 Feb. 2022). When the media feeds which permeate your waking hours serve by design to distract and to induce moral panic and inspire caste-based (identity politics based) fear and hatred (20 Jan. 2022). When this is your reality — and in part brought to you by Pfizer, how can you say: “but my mind is free.” Free to do what?
You resist by taking back control of your body. From Big Pharma. From Big Food. From the MSM. From the Administrative State. Strength training is an essential part and practice of that resistance. Now go push and pull some heavy things. Sweat shall be your benediction; health, the enduring blessing. You eat clean and train both to protect your personal freedom and so that Liberty shall not perish.
Howard J. Luks, MD. (2022). Longevity … Simplified: Living A Longer, Healthier Life Shouldn’t Be Complicated.
Jonathon Sullivan, MD, PhD. (2016). The Barbell Prescription: Strength Training for Life After 40.
Standard disclaimer: Our link to or citation of any source or person does NOT imply that source or person in anyway endorses American Exile. Our preferred pronouns remain: “small fringe minority” & “unacceptable views.”
Thanks for reading American Exile! Subscribe for free to receive new posts.