How Longevity can be Trained through Strength, Speed, and Endurance
As a physical therapist with MovementX, it is my mission to improve people’s confidence through healthier movement.
As a father, my mission has grown to also include optimizing my longevity so I can stick around for as long as possible with this little munchkin (see picture).
Back in 2014, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) published a position paper to bring awareness to outdated approaches to physical therapy. Here is one of the excerpts that piqued my interest:
Don’t prescribe under-dosed strength training programs for older adults. Instead, match the frequency, intensity and duration of exercise to the individual’s abilities and goals (1).
I am a firm believer that we age because we slow down (not, the other way around).
How is Movement Essential for Longevity?
A recent study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition supported this notion and found that adults over 60 years old with reduced walking speed and sarcopenia, a syndrome characterized by progressive and generalized loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength, showed a greater mortality risk than their age-mates with normal muscle mass and walking speed (2).
The APTA supports these studies with the claims:
Improved strength in older adults is associated with improved health, quality of life and functional capacity, and with a reduced risk of falls (1).
A carefully developed and individualized strength training program may have significant health benefits for older adults (1).
This advice is music to my movement-loving ears! Put simply—train the inner child within the older adult. Unleash the munchkins within!
Furthermore, another article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that cardiorespiratory fitness is protective against all-cause mortality (4). This means that endurance is also a core component of what I would call “the longevity equation.”
Strength + Speed + Endurance = Longevity
So how can we train all three components of this equation? What is one movement that can incorporate aspects of strength, speed, and endurance?
My Favorite Movement for Maximizing Longevity
Anyone who has worked with me knows how much I love the sled push.
Shoulder pain? Let’s push the sled!
Back pain? Let’s push the sled!
Performance training? Let’s push the sled!
Longevity equation? Let’s push the sled!
Why do I love this exercise, especially for older adults? The sled push allows us to train the entire body in one movement. It reinforces taking bigger steps and adopting a forward lean with gait—two skills that frequently decline with age.
The sled push lends itself to effective form without requiring much coaching, which means you can start training for performance on the first day. The sled push also has very little eccentric loading (lengthening of muscle-tendon complexes under load), which means less soreness after you complete the movement.
How often should I do the Sled Push exercise?
The Prescription: Hit each movement pillar of longevity once or twice each week.
- Sled push strength—Load that sled with some weight! Push 3 sets of 8-10 steps on each leg.
- Sled push speed—Sprint that sled as far as you can: 4 sets of 20 seconds. Rest 2 minutes between sets.
- Sled push endurance—Push that sled as far as you can in 4 minutes. Rest 4 minutes. Repeat for 3 sets.
The Key Takeaway
We want our kids to run fast, run far, and stay strong and healthy. We owe it to them to embody these tenets and to be healthy movement and wellness role models. Through intentional training of strength, speed, and endurance, we can optimize healthy movement and therefore longevity.
To read more content from Dr. Alcorn, check out his personal blog. Or, to schedule a physical therapy session with Dr. Alcorn, click here.
- APTA – Choosing Wisely – Five Things Physical Therapists and Patients Should Question. 2014.
- Bachettini NP, Bielemann RM, Barbosa-Silva TG, Baptista Menezes AM, Tomasi E, Gonzalez MC. Sarcopenia as a mortality predictor in community-dwelling older adults: a comparison of the diagnostic criteria of the European Working Group on Sarcopenia in Older People. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition volume 74, pages 573–580 (2020).
- Cruz-Jentoft A, Sayer AA. Sarcopenia. The Lancet. Volume 393, Issue 10191. Pages 2636-2646. June 2019.
- Mandsager K, Harb S, Cremer P. Association of Cardiorespiratory Fitness With Long-term Mortality Among Adults Undergoing Exercise Treadmill Testing. JAMA Network Open. 2018;1(6):e183605. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.3605
About the Author
Dr. Dan Alcorn is a physical therapist with MovementX in Northern Virginia. He is a Board-Certified Specialist in Orthopedic Physical Therapy and is also fellowship-trained in the care for upper extremity athletes. Dan Alcorn treats patients at Patriot CrossFit in Arlington, VA, and has a strong passion for improving people’s confidence through healthier movement, lifestyle choices, and longevity.
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