Build Muscle, Stay Young

Neurosurgeon Recommends 5 Top Strength-Building Exercises

Dr. Brett Osborn
Dr. Brett Osborn performs a squat, an exercise from his 5 training pillars.

If you want good health, a long life and to feel your best well into old age, the most important thing you can do is strength training, says Dr. Brett Osborn, a New York neurosurgeon.

“Our ability to fight off disease resides in our muscles,” Osborn says. “The greatest thing you can do for your body is to build muscle.”

He cites a large, long-term study published in the British Medical Journal of nearly 9,000 men ages 20 to 80. After nearly 19 years, the men still living were those with the most muscular strength. Muscle is all protein — “nothing but good for you,” says Osborn, a neurological surgeon and anti-aging expert from New York University.

Fat, however, is an endocrine organ, meaning it releases hormones and other chemicals.

When a person has excess fat, he or she also has a disrupted flow of excess biochemicals, which can increase insulin resistance and boost risk factors for stroke and high blood pressure, among other problems. “Increased cytokines, an immune system chemical, for example, are associated with increased risk for cardiovascular disease,” Osborn says. “You’re only as old as your arteries.”

Strength-training has health benefits for everyone, he adds, no matter their size.

“Some fat is visceral fat — it’s stored around the organs and it’s even more dangerous than the fat you can see,” he says. “People who look thin may actually be carrying around a lot of visceral fat.”

5 Training Plan Pillars

1. Squat

It’s the basic movement around which all training should be centred. Standing erect with a heavy load on your back and then repeatedly squatting down will stress your body inordinately — in a good way — forcing it to grow more muscle.

2. Overhead Press

Activates the shoulders, arm extenders and chest. Lower body musculature is activated as it counters the downward force of the dumbbell being pressed. From the feet to the hands, force is transmitted through the skeletal system, stabilized by numerous muscular structures, most importantly the lower back.

3. Deadlift 

This centres on the hamstrings, buttocks, lumbar extensors and quadriceps, essentially the large muscles of your backside and the front of your thighs. As power is transferred from the lower body into the bar through the upper body, upper-back muscles are also stressed, contrasting with the squat, which is supported by the hands. Deadlifts are considered by some to be the most complete training exercise.

4. Bench Press

Targets the chest, shoulders and triceps; it’s most popular among weightlifters and it’s very simple — trainees push the barbell off the lower chest until the arms are straight. This motion stresses the entire upper body and the lower body, which serves a stabilizing function. This provides a big hormonal response and plenty of bang for your buck.

5. Pull-up/Chin-up

A pull-up is done with hands gripping over the bar; a chin-up is where hands are gripping under the bar. Nine out of 10 people cannot do this exercise because most simply haven’t put in the effort. It’s also been called a “man’s exercise,” which is nonsense, he says. There are no gender-specific exercises.