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Strong teens make happy adults

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We know our youth is at risk.

The scientific community widely accepts obesity and high blood pressure in kids as serious health conditions associated with increased risk of early death. This is scary stuff. Some say that for the first time in history, today’s children may have shorter lifespans than their parent’s generation. Part of the solution is to encourage youths and adolescents to be physically active. Is it enough for them to play hockey or soccer once a week? A new study published on bmj.com suggests that teenagers need to get back into the weightroom.  

The study, led by Professor Finn Rasmussen at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, suggests that low muscle strength in adolescents is strongly associated with risk of premature death. The researchers tracked over a million adolescent males over a period of 24 years and found that the effect of low muscle strength was similar to traditional markers such as obesity and high blood pressure. They found that the weaker adolescents were more likely to die before the age of 55.  

On the other hand, the stronger adolescents were 20-30% less likely to die a premature death from any cause. The most common cause of death before the age of 55 in this study was suicide, followed by heart disease, which was significantly less common. Muscular strength appears to have a protective effect, particularly when it comes to psychiatric problems. The stronger adolescents not only lived longer, but were also up to 65% less likely to obtain any psychiatric diagnoses, including schizophrenia, depression and other mood disorders.

The authors of the study confirm that low muscular strength "is an emerging risk factor for major causes of death in young adulthood, such as suicide and cardiovascular diseases." Getting strong not only helps adolescents live longer, happier lives, it also helps them feel more confident. Strength training helps shift the focus from esthetics to performance, and improves self esteem. Seeing gradual increases in the loads they lift helps motivate teenagers and keeps them interested in physical activity.

Other studies have noted similar correlations between strength and lifespan in the adults and in the general population. Getting strong is one of the best ways to prevent disease, and the general public is finally catching on. Lisa, a contestant on the popular network television show The Biggest Loser was recently quoted as saying: "I didn’t come here to get skinny. I came here to get strong."

Tania Tetrault Vrga is owner and head trainer at CrossFit Winnipeg. Send questions to her at www.crossfitwinnipeg.com.


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