A Note From the Founder: Today, our good friend Dr. Phil Roberts has a simple – and unique – health hack to help keep your body humming like it was when you were young. As you’ll read below, this trick has wide-ranging benefits that could even save your life. If you have any questions for Dr. Roberts, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. And to stay informed on the issues that affect your health, subscribe to our recently launched (and free!) e-letter, Practical Health Today. You can sign up here.
Far too many people accept growing frailty as a part of aging.
But, as I often reminded my patients, that shouldn’t be the case. As we grow older, it becomes increasingly important that we maintain muscle mass.
Frailty can cause a whole host of complex medical problems.1 It can take away your ability to live independently and can lead to cognitive issues.
Older adults who are frail are more likely to become disabled and be admitted to the hospital.
They are also more likely to develop infections because their immune system is weaker.2 And a simple infection can cause more harm than it would to an otherwise healthy individual.3
Fortunately, there’s a simple, little-known trick we can steal from the bodybuilding community to make sure our muscles stay strong enough to support us.
And it’s easy to do.
Wrap Your Head Around This
It’s called blood-flow restriction (BFR) training.
It helps stimulate muscle growth and strength while taking just half the time and about a third of the weight typically needed to maintain muscle mass.
This is a fantastic way for older adults to limit the strain lifting weights can have on the joints.
And all it takes is wrapping a cuff around the tops of your limbs to restrict blood flow when you exercise.
You can use an Ace bandage, kinetic tape, a knee brace or a specifically designed “Kaatsu” device (that’s the patented name brand of this exercise tactic).
It’s key that you don’t fully cut off all circulation, though. You don’t want to tie a tourniquet under your shoulders or above your thighs. You just want to limit the amount of blood flow. (And it’s better to err on the side of being too loose until you get the hang of it.)
The cuff or band should be just tight enough to allow blood to flow through the arteries but not through the veins.
Here’s how it works.
The cuff causes your limbs to fill with blood, and then lactic acid accumulates… giving you the same benefit as lifting heavy weights while minimizing the risks.
When blood flow is restricted from flowing back through the veins, the brain is tricked into thinking the body is engaging in a more intense exercise.
This simple hack can add lean muscle mass while increasing strength and endurance.4 Some practitioners of BFR claim that it helps burn fat and helps repair injuries.
BFR training causes the pituitary gland to release more growth hormones, which makes hair and nails grow faster.5
What’s more, clinical research has shown the practice to be beneficial for patients with cardiovascular conditions.6
In Japan, where this practice was fine-tuned, some orthopedic specialists use BFR on older adults who might not have the stamina for long rehabilitation sessions.
Even though there is a lot of science to back up these claims,7,8,9 researchers aren’t exactly sure why it works… But it does (and I can speak from personal experience).
If all of that wasn’t enough reason to try wrapping a band around your arm and lifting a few dumbbells, know that the practice is being investigated by NASA.10
The National Space Biomedical Research Institute funded a study to see if BFR can help astronauts deal with gravity-free conditions.
Research found it to not only increase strength, but also reduce muscle atrophy.11
“Hack” Your Body
Again, all you need to do is wrap a band above your biceps and above your thighs. Then do some rudimentary exercises like pushups, bicep curls and squats.
And the best part is, you don’t need to pile the weight on to see the results. Because the blood that flows from the muscle to the heart is being restricted, low-level effort quickly turns into a maximum workout.
The only people who should avoid BFR workouts are pregnant women and those dealing with arteriovenous fistulas (who should avoid BFR exercise on their affected limbs).
This is a great “biohack” that puts you in control of your body. And you don’t need to set aside a big chunk of your day to fit the exercise in.
A simple 10-minute workout a few days a week is enough time to quickly see and feel the effects in just a few weeks.