Let’s face it, no matter how old we are, it seems to take a lot longer to get into shape than it takes to lose our fitness level. At the rate sarcopenia (natural muscle loss that occurs with aging) attacks our bodies, it’s no surprise that we find we have to work harder just to maintain our current fitness level. What was a three to six percent per decade average decrease in overall fitness levels for individuals in their twenties and thirties, becomes a twenty percent decrease in seventy year olds…
I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Wayne Westcott speak on aging at several different fitness conferences, specifically, on the natural aging process and how our bodies start losing lean muscle mass at the rate of about a half pound per year at the ripe old age of thirty. That means that if we did absolutely nothing to counter this aging process, we’d lose ten pounds of muscle by the time we’re fifty.
But wait, it gets better! Once we hit our fifties, sixties, and beyond, the rate of the loss of lean muscle doubles to about a pound per year. Talk about a hit to our metabolism…
The great news is that through something as simple and natural as lifting weights, we can fight this aging process and rebuild that lost muscle. Dr. Westcott spoke of an interesting experiment he had conducted with twenty elderly and frail men and women in a nursing home. I remember the story well and have used it many times as an example for my own clients over the years. To make sure I didn’t misrepresent the study, a quick Google search lead me to an article in the Chicago Tribune where I was able to confirm my facts and fill in a couple of percentages I didn’t remember.
Dr. Westcott and his colleagues lead a group of senior citizens in a simple, well-controlled exercise program a couple of times per week over the period of fourteen weeks. During that time the seniors were instructed on the proper use of five different exercise machines. Strength comparisons from testing done before and after the fourteen-week period reveled that they had increased their lower body strength by 80% and their upper body strength by 40%. As a result of the fourteen-week program, some of the participants were able to move from wheelchairs to walkers, while others were able to throw their walkers away. They were able to become more self-reliant with their increased strength and generally had a better outlook on life!
The first time I remember lifting weights was in the weight room in the basement of War Memorial Gym at Virginia Tech. When the main coed weight room was too crowded, I’d go into the women’s weight room located just off the women’s locker room. Since men couldn’t access the room, it was grossly underused; and sadly, I was often the only person in there.
After graduating from college I didn’t have access to a weight room again until I joined a women’s only gym in Denver called Mademoiselle Spa. When we moved back to Virginia in 1984, I transferred my gym membership to a local gym and have continued to lift weights regularly ever since, including up until the day before both of my sons were born. My current strength training routine includes lifting three days per week for about an hour. I’ve gotta admit that I’m pretty proud of my almost sixty-year-old shoulders and arms!
I’m one of the lucky ones who learned to love strength training and and realized it’s benefits when I was young. If you’re not participating in a strength training program already, it would be a great idea to add it in to help fight off sarcopenia.
Some of the benefits of strength training as we get older include:
- Rebuilding of muscle that is loss through sarcopeni
- Increasing general strength
- Improving balance and reducing the risk of falling which can result in injury
- Increasing metabolism as muscle mass is increased which results in calories being burned more efficiently which in turn helps manage body weight
- Improving bone density and strength
- Keeping some diseases at bay and making others more tolerable
- Increasing energy levels
- Improving flexibility
- Making self-reliance possible
- Improving mood by releasing happy endorphins
I guess you can say that I’m fighting sarcopenia, building one pound of muscle at a time!
- Do you lift weights?
- If so, when did you begin lifting?
- Do you enjoy exercise?