How to Live Longer: Strength Training Can Increase Longevity

On the measures that count, Geraldine Vinall, 76, from Milton Keynes, had a poor quality of life. She suffered from advanced osteoarthritis and chronic pain. Geraldine was labeled ‘severely disabled’ and said her spine was collapsing.

Unfortunately for Geraldine, the pain was nothing new. The 76-year-old had suffered from neck and back pain throughout her adult life, following polio and a riding accident as a child, and a car accident at 21, which injured his neck.

Diagnosed with advanced and severe osteoarthritis of her cervical spine in her early 30s, Geraldine struggled with increased pain, stiffness and immobility, despite regular walks with her dog and visits to a chiropractor.

She credits the first Covid lockdown to her realization that she still had a life ahead of her that she wanted to take full advantage of.

“Women on both sides of my family live to be over 90, and I wanted to be able to plan for the next 15 to 20 years,” she explained.

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After weighing her options, she sought help to manage her pain and was referred by her GP to the community health service provider, Connect Health. She had a phone consultation with one of Connect’s MSK (musculoskeletal) clinicians, Charlotte Hopper.

Charlotte said: “During that first conversation, Geraldine had so much to say – she’s a very bubbly and driven woman, but she felt like she had been ignored by healthcare professionals in the past. She had been told that her spine was collapsing, that she had moved from one person to another, and that she had never offered real solutions.She needed reassurance on how to manage his pain and understand what was going on with his conditions.

The couple began their first individual gym sessions, before Geraldine joined small group classes with other patients, led by Charlotte.

new beginnings

A member of the gymnasium for many years, Geraldine had lost confidence and believed that this was the right path for her. Diminishing results had led to lower expectations and motivation was becoming more difficult to maintain. She and Charlotte laughed at the “need for WD40 for the joints”.

Charlotte explained that “loaded weights and strength training – encourage synovial fluid – Nature’s WD40 – into stiff, sore joints to optimize flexibility and reduce pain.”

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This was a new approach to using a gymnasium for physiotherapy and rehabilitation.

Geraldine said she imagined physio would be “a bit of a massage and maybe an ultrasound”, neither of which had worked in the past “but Charlotte’s idea made sense, and the hope began to come back”.

Charlotte continued: “In the first one-on-one it took me 20 minutes to get her on the elliptical, I think she was weighing me down. But once she got going she made incredible progress. Then , we moved to small group classes, which I think was the answer for her. She’s quite competitive, so she would watch out for other patients – most of them were younger than her – and want to improve.

“At first she was barely doing a squat, but soon she was lifting 4kg weights, then she was picking up an 8kg kettlebell and starting to squat. She flew through the circuits we prepared for the group.

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The couple stayed in touch outside of class via app updates, where Geraldine would keep Charlotte updated on her progress while doing the exercises on her own.

Géraldine withdrew from the group, as she felt that there were others who needed the place more than her. She is now continuing her workouts at home and at the gym – where she also plans to start virtual spin classes.

In addition to giving her a new lease of life, bodybuilding has alleviated some of Géraldine’s chronic pain.

She now lifts 8kg kettlebells and has a “life plan” to carry her well into her 90s.

“I gradually changed direction over the years, going from [looking after] everyone else to take care of me. I’m finally, really, independent, although I’m still evolving.”

Evidence suggests that Geraldine’s story is no accident. Regular exercise with weights is linked to a lower risk of death from any cause except cancer, suggests research in older people published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine .

Commenting on Geraldine’s story, Dr Graeme Wilkes, Chief Medical Officer of Connect Health, said: “Resistance exercises using gravity or weights to strengthen muscles are generally recognized as contributing to musculoskeletal health and recovery from injury, as well as for some to “look good”. ‘. What is not well known is that research has shown that muscle-strengthening activities are independently associated with a variety of health improvements, including increased life expectancy, improved heart function and mental health.

“Mental and physical well-being will reduce sensitivity to pain, which has undoubtedly helped Geraldine and would hurt many.

“Recent data suggests that only 10-30% of adults meet muscle-strengthening activity recommendations.

“As you age, there is no age when people should become sedentary – resistance exercise should be a part of life until the grave, providing a better quality of life to this day. It should include resistance exercises for the whole body, including arms and legs.

“In addition to seniors who continue to resist weights, their friends and families should encourage this and not conspire to reduce this vital training for well-being. Seeing an elderly person in the gym should be a normal occurrence.

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