Tag Archives: resistance training

Book Review: “Stop the Clock: The Optimal Anti-Aging Strategy”

dementia, memory loss, Mediterranean diet, low-carb diet, glycemic index, dementia memory loss

“I wish we could have read PD Mangan’s book thirty years ago!”

I read P.D. Mangan’s 2015 book, Stop the Clock: The Optimal Anti-Aging Strategy. I give it five stars in Amazon’s rating system. High recommended.

♦   ♦   ♦

I approached this book with trepidation. I like PD Mangan even though I’ve never met him. We’ve interacted on Twitter and at our blogs. You can tell from his blogging that he’s very intelligent. I don’t know his educational background but wouldn’t be surprised if he has a doctorate degree. My apprehension about the book is that I was concerned it would be brimming with malarkey and scams. Fortunately, that’s not the case at all.

Twin studies have established that 25% of longevity is genetic. That leaves a lot of lifestyle factors for us to manipulate.

I’m not familiar with the anti-aging scientific literature and don’t expect it will ever be something I’ll spend much time on. But it’s an important topic. I’ll listen to what other smart analysts—like Mr. Mangan—have to say about it.

It’s quite difficult to do rigorous testing of anti-aging strategies on free-living humans. So the best studies we have were done with worms, rodents, and monkeys; the findings may or may not apply to us. For example, long-term calorie restriction—about 30% below expected energy needs—is known to prolong life span in certain worms and rodents, with mixed results in rhesus monkeys. It’s the rare person who would follow such a low-calorie diet for years as an experiment. I doubt I would do it even if proven to give me an extra five years of life. I like to eat.

There are several prominent theories of how and why animals age. The author thinks the major factors are:

  1. oxidative stress
  2. inflammation
  3. a decline in autophagy (perhaps most important)

An effective anti-aging program should address these issues.

In the anti-aging chapter of his book, The South Asian Health Solution, internist Ronesh Sinha says that “Lifestyle practices that reduce excess inflammation in the body will help delay the aging process.” Dr. Sinha is a huge exercise advocate and low-carb diet proponent.

Mr. Mangan makes a convincing argument that a good way to forestall aging is to apply hormetic stress. Hormesis is a phenomenon whereby a beneficial effect (e.g., improved health, stress tolerance, growth, or longevity) results from exposure to low doses of an agent or activity that is otherwise toxic or lethal when given at higher doses.

Needs a bit more hormetic stress

Needs a bit more hormetic stress

In case you’re not familiar with hormesis, here’s a major example. Lack of regular exercise leads is linked to premature death from heart disease and cancer. Starting and maintaining an exercise program leads to greater resistance to injury and disease and longer life span. On the other hand, too much exercise is harmful to health and longevity. We see that in professional athletes and excessive marathon runners. Something about exercise—in the right amount—enhances the body’s intrinsic repair mechanisms. That’s the hormetic effect of exercise; one mechanism is by turning on autophagy.

Autophagy is the body’s natural process for breaking down and removing or recycling worn-out cellular structures. This wearing-out occurs daily and at all ages.

If you’re thinking Mr. Mangan recommends exercise as an anti-aging strategy, you’re exactly right. Especially resistance training and high intensity training. His specific recommendations are perfectly in line with what I tell my patients.

Calorie restriction is another form of hormesis; the body reacts by up-regulating stress defense mechanisms. As a substitute for calorie restriction, the author recommends intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting increases insulin sensitivity, which leads to enhanced autophagy. Fasting seems perfectly reasonable if you think about it, which very few do. Many of us eat every three or four hours while awake, whether a meal or a snack. If you think about it, that’s not a pattern that would be supported by evolution. In the Paleolithic era, we often must have gone 12–16 hours or even several days without food. Hominins without the resiliency to do that would have died off and not passed their genes down to us.

Steve Parker MD, Advanced Mediterranean DIet

Naturally low-carb Caprese salad: mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, basil, extra virgin olive oil

Another anti-aging trick is a low-carb diet, defined as under 130 grams/day, or under 20% of total calories. It may work via insulin signaling and weight control.

Glutathione within our cells is a tripeptide antioxidant critical for clearing harmful reactive oxygen species (free radicals). We need adequate glutathione to prevent or slow aging. Cysteine is the peptide that tends to limit our body’s production of glutathione. We increase our cysteine supply either through autophagy (which recycles protein peptides) or diet. Dietary sources of cysteine are proteins, especially from animal sources. Whey protein supplements and over-the-counter n-acetyl cysteine are other sources. Fasting is another trick that increases cysteine availability via autophagic recyling.

I don’t recall the author ever mentioning it, but if you hope to maximize longevity, don’t smoke. Even if it has hormetic effects. Maybe that goes without saying in 2015.

When I read a book like this, I always run across tidbits of information that I want to remember. Here are some:

  • those of us in the top third of muscular strength have a 40% lower risk of cancer (NB: you increase your strength through resistance training not aerobics)
  • exercise helps prevent cognitive decline and dementia, at least partially via enhanced autophagy
  • exercise increases brain volume (in preparing to do this review I learned that our brains after age 65 lose 7 cubic centimeters of volume yearly)
  • optimal BMI may be 20 or 21, not the 18.5-25 you’ll see elsewhere (higher BMI due to muscle mass rather than fat should not be a problem)
  • Scientist Cynthia Kenyon: “Sugar is the new tobacco.” (in terms of aging)
  • phytochemicals (from plants, by definition) activate AMPK, a cellular energy sensor that improves stress defense mechanisms and increases metabolic efficiency
  • curcumin (from the spice turmeric) activates AMPK
  • coffee promotes autophagy
  • he does not favor HGH supplementation
  • in the author’s style of intermittent fasting, you’re not reducing overall calorie intake, just bunching your calories together over a shorter time frame (e.g., all 2,500 calories over 6-8 hours instead of spread over 24)
  • mouse studies suggest that intermittent fasting could reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinsons disease
  • consider phytochemical supplements: curcumin, resveratrol, green tea extract
  • calorie-restriction mimetics include resveratrol, curcumin, nicotinamide, EGCG, and hydroxycitrate
  • supplemental resveratrol at 150 mg/day improved memory and cognition in humans

The author provides very specific anti-aging recommendations that could be followed by just about anyone. Read the book for details. Scientists are working feverishly to develop more effective anti-aging techniques. I look forward to a second edition of this book in three to five years.

Steve Parker, M.D.

PS: People with certain medical conditions, such as diabetics taking drugs that can cause hypoglycemia, should not do intermittent fasting without the blessing of their personal physician. If you have any question about your ability to fast safely, check with your doctor.

PPS: If you have diabetes or prediabetes and want to reduce your carbohydrate consumption, consider my Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet or Paleobetic Diet.

Exercise for the Diabetic


Regular physical activity postpones death, mostly by its effect on cancer, strokes, and heart attacks.

Consider a personal trainer if you're not familiar with weight training

Consider a personal trainer if you’re not familiar with weight training

Exercise is a fountain of youth. Peak aerobic power (or fitness) naturally diminishes by 50 percent between young adulthood and age 65. Regular exercise increases fitness (aerobic power) by 15–20 percent in middle-aged and older men and women, the equivalent of a 10–20 year reduction in biological age.

Additional benefits of exercise include: 1) enhanced immune function, 2) stronger bones, 3) preservation and improvement of flexibility, 4) lower blood pressure by 8–10 points, 5) diminished premenstrual bloating, breast tenderness, and mood changes, 6) reduced incidence of dementia, 7) less trouble with constipation, 7) better ability to handle stress, 8) less trouble with insomnia, 9) improved self-esteem, 10) enhanced sense of well-being, with less anxiety and depression, 11) higher perceived level of energy, and 12) prevention of weight regain.


Eighty-five percent of type 2 diabetics are overweight or obese. It’s not just a random association. Obesity contributes heavily to most cases of type 2 diabetes, particularly in those predisposed by heredity. Insulin is the key that allows bloodstream sugar (glucose) into cells for utilization as energy, thus keeping blood sugar from reaching dangerously high levels. Overweight bodies produce plenty of insulin, often more than average. The problem in overweight diabetics is that the cells are no longer sensitive to insulin’s effect. Weight loss and exercise independently return insulin sensitivity towards normal. Many diabetics can improve their condition through sensible exercise and weight management.

Muscles doing prolonged exercise soak up sugar from the blood stream to use as an energy source, a process occurring independent of insulin’s effect. On the other hand, be aware that blood sugar may rise early in the course of an exercise session.


You don’t have to run marathons (26.2 miles) or compete in the Ironman Triathlon to earn the health benefits of exercise. However, if health promotion and disease prevention are your goals, plan on a lifetime commitment to regular physical activity.

For the general public, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends:

  • at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (e.g., brisk walking) and muscle-strengthening activity at least twice a week, OR
  • 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (e.g., running or jogging) plus muscle-strengthening activity at least twice a week. The muscle-strengthening activity should work all the major muscle groups: legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, arms.

I’m working on a program of combined aerobic (high intensity interval training) and strength training for just 70 minutes a week, but it’s not yet ready for prime time.


What’s “strength training”? It’s also called muscle-strengthening activity, resistance training, weight training, and resistance exercise. Examples include lifting weights, work with resistance bands, digging, shoveling, yoga, push-ups, chin-ups, and other exercises that use your body weight or other loads for resistance.

I prefer free weights over machines, but that's just me

I prefer free weights over machines, but that’s just me

Strength training just twice a week increases your strength and endurance, allows you to sculpt your body to an extent, and counteracts the loss of lean body mass (muscle) so often seen during efforts to lose excess weight. It also helps maintain your functional abilities as you age. For example, it’s a major chore for many 80-year-olds to climb a flight of stairs, carry in a bag of groceries from the car, or vacuum a house. Strength training helps maintain these abilities that youngsters take for granted.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “To gain health benefits, muscle-strengthening activities need to be done to the point where it’s hard for you to do another repetition without help. A repetition is one complete movement of an activity, like lifting a weight or doing a sit-up. Try to do 8–12 repetitions per activity that count as 1 set. Try to do at least 1 set of muscle-strengthening activities, but to gain even more benefits, do 2 or 3 sets.”

If this is starting to sound like Greek to you, consider instruction by a personal trainer at a local gym or health club. That’s a good investment for anyone unfamiliar with strength training, in view of its great benefits and the potential harm or waste of time from doing it wrong. Alternatives to a personal trainer would be help from an experienced friend or instructional DVD. If you’re determined to go it alone, Internet resources may help, but be careful. Consider “Growing Stronger: Strength Training for Older Adults” (ignore “older” if it doesn’t apply).

Current strength training techniques are much different than what you remember from high school 30 years ago—modern methods are better. Some of the latest research suggests that strength training may be even more beneficial than aerobic exercise.


“Aerobic activity” is just about anything that mostly makes you huff and puff. In other words, get short of breath to some degree. It’s also called “cardio.” Examples are brisk walking, swimming, golf (pulling a cart or carrying clubs), lawn work, painting, home repair, racket sports and table tennis, house cleaning, leisurely canoeing, jogging, bicycling, jumping rope, and skiing. The possibilities are endless. A leisurely stroll in the shopping mall doesn’t qualify, unless that makes you short of breath. Don’t laugh: that is a workout for many who are obese.

But which aerobic physical activity is best? Glad you asked!

Steve Parker MD

Not ready for this? Consider interval walking then.

Ideally, it’s an activity that’s pleasant for you. If not outright fun, it should be often enjoyable and always tolerable. Unless you agree with Ken Hutchins that exercise isn’t necessarily fun.

Your exercise of choice should also be available year-round, affordable, safe, and utilize large muscle groups. The greater mass and number of muscles used, the more calories you will burn, which is important if you’re trying to lose weight or prevent gain or regain. (Exercise isn’t a great route to weight loss in the real world, although it helps on TV’s Biggest Loser show.) Compare tennis playing with sitting in a chair squeezing a tennis ball repetitively. The tennis player burns calories much faster. Your largest muscles are in your legs, so consider walking, biking, many team sports, ski machines, jogging, treadmill, swimming, water aerobics, stationary cycling, stair-steppers, tennis, volleyball, roller-skating, rowing, jumping rope, and yard work.

Steve Parker MD

Yes, this is exercise, too

Walking is “just what the doctor ordered” for many people. It’s readily available, affordable, usually safe, and requires little instruction. If it’s too hot, too cold, or rainy outside, you can do it in a mall, gymnasium, or health club.


Check this link.


All I’m asking you to do is aerobic activity, such as walk briskly (3–4 mph or 4.8–6.4 km/h) for 30 minutes most days of the week, and do some muscle-strengthening exercises three times a week. These recommendations are also consistent with the American Diabetes Association’s Standards of Care–2013. This amount of exercise will get you most of the documented health benefits.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Resistance Versus Aerobic Training: Which Is Better?


Weight training, also known as resistance training, may be just as effective as, or even superior to, aerobic training in terms of overall health promotion.  Furthermore, it’s less time-consuming according to a 2010 review by Stuart Phillips and Richard Winett.

I don’t like to exercise but I want the health benefits.  So I look for ways to get it done quickly and safely.

Here’s a quote from Phillips and Winett:

A central tenet of this review is that the dogmatic dichotomy of resistance training as being muscle and strength building with little or no value in promoting cardiometabolic health and aerobic training as endurance promoting and cardioprotective, respectively, largely is incorrect.

Over the last few years (decade?), a new exercise model has emerged.  It’s simply intense resistance training for 15–20 minutes twice a week.  It’s not fun, but you’re done and can move on to other things you enjoy.  None of this three to five hours a week of exercise some recommend.  We have no consensus on whether the new model is as healthy as the old.

More tidbits from Phillips and Winett:

  • they hypothesize that resistance training (RT) leads to improved physical function, fewer falls, lower risk for disability, and potentially longer life span
  • only 10–15% of middle-aged or older adults in the U.S. practice RT whereas 35% engage in aerobic training (AT) or physical activity to meet minimal guidelines
  • they propose RT protocols that are brief, simple, and feasible
  • twice weekly training may be all that’s necessary
  • RT has a beneficial effect on LDL cholesterol and tends to increase HDL cholesterol, comparable to effects seen with AT
  • blood pressure reductions with RT are comparable to those seen with AT (6 mmHg systolic, almost 5 mmHg diastolic)
  • RT improves glucose regulation and insulin activity in those with diabetes and prediabetes
  • effort is a key component of the RT stimulus: voluntary fatigue is the goal (referred to as “momentary muscular failure” in some of my other posts)
  • “In intrinsic RT, the focus and goal are to target and fatigue muscle groups.  A wide range of repetitions and time under tension can be used to achieve such a goal.  Resistance simply is a vehicle to produce fatigue and only is adjusted when fatigue is not reached within the designated number of repetitions and time under tension.”

Our thesis is that an intrinsically oriented (i.e., guided by a high degree of effort intrinsic to each subject) program with at minimum of one set with 10–15 multiple muscle group exercises (e.g., leg press, chest press, pulldown, overhead press) executed with good form would be highly effective from a public health perspective.

The authors cite 60 other sources to support their contentions.

These ideas are the foundation of time-efficient resistance training of the sort promoted by Dr. Doug McGuff, Skyler Tanner, Fred Hahn, Chris Highcock, James Steele II, and Jonathan Bailor, to name a few.

Only a minority will ever exercise as much as the public health authorities recommend.  This new training model has real potential to help the rest of us.

For folks with diabetes, the combination of aerobic and resistance training may be better than either alone, for control of glucose levels.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference:  Phillips, Stuart and Winett, Richard.  Uncomplicated resistance training and health-related outcomes: Evidence for a public health mandate.  Current Sports Medicine Reports, 2010, vol. 9 (#4), pages 208-213.

Exercise To Momentary Muscular Failure and You Can Skip the Cardio?

I was planning to review here an article, Resistance Training to Momentary Muscular Failure Improves Cardiovascular Fitness in Humans: A review of acute physiological responses and chronic physiological adaptations.  It’s by James Steele, et al, in the Journal of Exercise Physiology (Vol. 15, No. 3, June  2012).

But dayum, it’s too technical for me!  Too much cell biology and cell metabolism.  Those college classes were over three decades ago for me.

I’m just going to harvest a few pearls from the article that are important to me.  I ran across this in my quest for efficient exercise.  By efficient, I mean minimal time involved, yet good results.

The authors question the widespread assumption that aerobic and endurance training are necessary for development of cardiovascular fitness.  Like Dr. Doug McGuff, they wonder if resistance training alone is adequate for the development of cardiovascular fitness.  Their paper is a review of the scientific literature.  The authors say the literature is hampered by an inappropriate definition and control of resistance training intensity.  The only accurate measure of intensity, in their view, is when the participant reaches maximal effort or momentary muscular failure.

The authors, by the way, define cardiovascular fitness in terms of maximum oxygen consumption, economy of movement, and lactate threshold.

“It would appear that the most important variable with regards to producing improvement in cardiovascular fitness via resistance training is intensity [i.e., to muscle failure].”

The key to improving cardiovascular fitness with resistance training is high-intensity.  These workouts are not what you’d call fun.

"MMF? Yeah, I know all about it."

“MMF? Yeah, I know all about it.”

From a molecular viewpoint, “the adenosine monophosphate–activated protein kinase pathway (AMPK) is held as the key instigator of endurance adaptations in skeletal muscle.  Contrastingly, the mammalian target of rapamycin pathway (mTOR) induces a cascade of events leading to increased muscle protein synthesis (i.e.,[muscle] hypertrophy).”  Some studies suggest AMPK is an acute inhibitor of mTOR activation.  Others indicate that “resistance training to  failure should result in activation of AMPK through these processes, as well as the subsequent delayed activation of mTOR, which presents a molecular mechanism by which resistance training can produce improvement in cardiovascular fitness, strength, and hypertrophy.”

You’re not still with me, are you?

“… the acute metabolic and molecular responses to resistance training performed to failure appear not to differ from traditional endurance or aerobic training when intensity is appropriately controlled.”

Chronic resistance training to failure induces a reduction in type IIx muscle fiber phenotype and an increase in type I and IIa fibers.  (Click for Wikipedia article on skeletal muscle fiber types.)

“It is very likely that people who are either untrained or not involved in organized sporting competition, but you have the desire to improve their cardiovascular fitness may find value in resistance training performed to failure.  In fact, this review suggests that resistance training to failure can produce cardiovascular fitness effects while simultaneously producing improvements in strength, power, and other health and fitness variables. This would present an efficient investment of time as the person would not have to perform several independent training programs for differing aspects of fitness.”  [These statements may not apply to trained athletes.]

Before listing their 157 references, the authors note:

“It is beyond the scope of this review to suggest optimal means of employing resistance training (i.e., load, set volume, and/or frequency) in order to improve cardiovascular fitness since there are no published studies on this topic.”

In conclusion, if you’re going to do resistance training but not traditional aerobic/cardio exercise, you may not be missing out on any health benefits if you train with intensity.  And you’ll be done quicker.

Steve Parker, M.D.

PS: See Evidence-based resistance training recommendations by Fisher, Steele, et al.

QOTD: All You Need Is a Single Set of Reps

We recommend that appreciably the same muscular strength and endurance adaptations can be attained by performing a single set of ~8-12 repetitions to momentary muscular failure, at a repetition duration that maintains muscular tension throughout the entire range of motion, for most major muscle groups once or twice each week. All resistance types (e.g. free-weights, resistance machines, bodyweight, etc.) show potential for increases in strength, with no significant difference between them, although resistance machines appear to pose a lower risk of injury.

Fisher, James, et al. Evidence-based resistance training recommendations. Medicina Sportiva, 15 (2011): 147-162.

Is Your Strength Training Regimen Outdated?

Not Chris Highcock

I’m reading Hillfit: Stength, an ebook  by Chris Highcock of Conditioning Research.  One of the scientific review articles he cites in support of his recommendations is an eye-opener.

Evidence-Based Resistance Training Recommendations is available free online.  It’s published in Medicina Sportiva, which I’m not familiar with.  I’ll confess I’ve read little of the hard-core literature on the science of strength training.  It’s one of my more recent interests.

An excerpt:

We recommend that appreciably the same muscular strength and endurance adaptations can be attained by performing a single set of ~8-12 repetitions to momentary muscular failure, at a repetition duration that maintains muscular tension throughout the entire range of motion, for most major muscle groups once or twice each week. All resistance types (e.g. free-weights, resistance machines, bodyweight, etc.) show potential for increases in strength, with no significant difference between them, although resistance machines appear to pose a lower risk of injury.

The article has already got me questioning some of my notions, such as how often to work out, number of reps moving a weight, speed of moving a weight, and whether I should stick with free weights.  Why not see if your dogma is supported?  Worth a look.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Fisher, James, et al.  Evidence-based resistance training recommendations.  Medicina Sportiva, 15 (2011): 147-162.