Hippocrates said, “That which is used develops; that which is not wastes away.”
As adults steadily move towards old age, it becomes progressively more important to maintain health and fitness through various exercises. More and more, research shows that strength training exercises, in particular, can help maintain health and fitness later in life.
On the flip side, if efforts are not made, the age-related loss of muscle mass can become a slippery slope from which it’s hard to recover.
Why is strength training so necessary for healthy aging? And does that mean other exercises, like walking and stretching, can be ignored? Keep reading to find out!
Why do we lose muscle as we age?
Research from Duke University has found that simple strength-related activities (such as standing up from a chair or balancing on one leg) often become more difficult as early as your 50s. But why is that?
Often, it’s simply because people become more sedentary as they age – whether it’s due to health issues, physical limitations, or fatigue. In addition, as we grow older:
- Hormone levels change
- Protein requirements alter
- And motor neurons die
Altogether, this can lead to a condition known as Sarcopenia, or the age-related loss of muscle mass. The word means flesh loss – from the Greek’ sarx’ (or flesh) and ‘penia’ (or loss).
This loss of muscle can affect posture, stability, and balance. It is one reason older adults fall so often, but older adults can fix it through regular exercise and strength training.
Sarcopenia can begin to affect adults as young as 30 years old, but it’s not until around 50 that the effects become very noticeable. At that point, muscle mass typically decreases about 30% during the next two decades. Then, even more dramatic losses begin after the age of 80.
It is important to note that age-related muscle loss can vary significantly from person to person.
Those that were active in their younger years are far more likely to stay fit as they get older – that’s why most experts suggest adults start weight training well before they reach middle age.
Signs of Sarcopenia
Often, the signs of Sarcopenia can be vague. Symptoms such as feeling physically weaker or suffering from frequent falls might be attributed to old age or other health issues. However, if you or a loved one experiences one or more of these signs and can’t explain why you should talk to a health professional:
- Diminished muscle strength
- Feeling physically weaker over time
- Having more difficulty lifting common objects
- Poor handgrip strength
- Difficulty walking or rising from a seated position
- Becoming exhausted quickly and having difficulty carrying out daily tasks
- Unexplained weight loss
Fighting age-related muscle loss
The only way to stay ahead of the aging process is by staying active and fit.
According to a recent article in the New York Times, older people who lift weights can slow or even reverse the age-related loss of muscle mass. In fact, they can actually GAIN strength and better mobility, mental sharpness, and better metabolic health.
Experts say that a combination of aerobic exercise, strength training, and balance work is the key to preventing or reversing the condition, with a particular emphasis on the strength training portion.
A typical weight training program might include:
- 8 to 10 exercises that target all the major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulder, and arms)
- Sets of 12 to 15 reps, performed at an effort of about 5 to 7 on a 10-point scale
- 2 to 3 workouts per week
Of course, it is best to check with your doctor before starting any exercise program. Once you’ve been given the go-ahead, a qualified personal trainer can help set up a sequence of exercises tailored to your abilities and can monitor you for safety and technique.
And remember: All of the exercises in the world won’t help if you don’t eat appropriately! So always try to get lots of protein (shoot for 30 grams per meal), check your vitamin D levels, and eat your Omega 3s.