Chances are you don’t live to exercise. For many of us exercise is a way to maintain or improve our quality of life. We exercise to move well, feel well and live well. You may have a daily regimen of walking, swimming, cycling or running already. Still, did you know a regular regimen of walking, playing tennis, or riding a bike is not adequate to prevent an incremental loss of muscle mass and strength in both the muscles you’re using and those not adequately stressed by usual activity?
Check out the latest research on preventing muscle loss as we age ― otherwise known as sarcopenia: Declining skeletal muscle with age concerns more than just the Baby Boomers …. “It begins as early as age 40 and, without intervention, gets increasingly worse, with as much as half of muscle mass lost by age 70.” (See Washington Times article: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/03/well/live/preventing-muscle-loss-among-the-elderly.html)
“Sarcopenia can be considered for muscle what osteoporosis is to bone,” Dr. John E. Morley, a geriatrician at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, wrote in the journal Family Practice. He pointed out that up to 13 percent of people in their 60s and as many as half of those in their 80s have sarcopenia.
As Dr. Jeremy D. Walston, a geriatrician at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, put it, “Sarcopenia is one of the most important causes of functional decline and loss of independence in older adults.”
So how do we combat ― or even reverse ― the loss of muscle mass? Two words for you: resistance training.
A consistent and well-designed strength and resistance training program can slow sarcopenia and improve muscle strength, fiber recruitment, muscle size, and overall functional capacity. The benefits of participating in said program are eye-opening:
* Increases HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein) — good cholesterol, and decreases LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein) — bad cholesterol;
* Reduces risk of diabetes and insulin needs;
* Lowers risk of cardiovascular disease;
* Lowers high blood pressure;
* Lowers risk of breast cancer―reduces high estrogen levels linked to the disease;
* Decreases or minimizes risk of osteoporosis by building bone mass;
* Reduces stress and anxiety; and,
* Decreases colds and illness.
Science confirms the benefits. In 1988, Walter R. Frontera and colleagues at the Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University demonstrated that 12 previously sedentary men aged 60 to 72 significantly increased their leg strength and muscle mass with a 12-week strength-training program three times a week.
Two years later in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Dr. Maria A. Fiatarone and colleagues at the Tufts Research Center reported that eight weeks of “high-intensity resistance training” significantly enhanced the physical abilities of nine frail nursing home residents aged 90 and older. Strength gains averaged 174 percent, mid-thigh muscle mass increased 9 percent and walking speed improved 48 percent.
So, what are you waiting for?
If you’re currently sedentary or have a chronic illness consult first with your doctor. Once cleared start a strength-training program using resistance bands, dumbbells, suspension systems and other training tools. Consider joining a gym or local program specializing in strength training for active agers — such as Thrive at Get Fit Davis — to learn correct form and proper technique from professional certified trainers.
A safe and effective program will use functional fitness exercises designed to train your muscles to work together and prepare them for daily tasks by simulating common movements you might do at home, at work or in sports. While using various muscles in the upper and lower body at the same time, functional fitness exercises also improve balance and core strength (no more falls!), increase bone density and joint mobility, improve posture and flexibility and correct muscle imbalances.
The best part is it’s never too late to get started. No matter where you are on your fitness journey, strength and resistance training is a crucial piece to your overall health and wellness. With your doctor’s go-ahead, a smidge of planning and a dash of follow-through, you too can train your muscles to make daily activities easier, safer and even possible.
— Amy Spence is a NASM certified personal trainer and senior fitness specialist, and holds TRX Suspension and ETP Nutrition certifications. Her latest workout tips and tricks, recipe ideas and practical advice can be found on her blog at www.thrivechooseyou.com and IG under #thrivechooseyou.