Age-Related Muscle Loss Doesn’t Have to Happen
Brian Koning, ACE-CPT, Pn1
At 40, our bodies start that downhill slide from fit to frail. As we age we become slower, our bones become brittle, our skin loses elasticity, our hair turns gray, our eyes don’t focus, and our mind becomes a little foggier. But, one condition many of us develop in our early 40s is called Sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass.
Muscle is what helps hold us together, keep us strong, aids our balance and coordination, and allow us to physically move. The bad news is, like death and taxes, Sarcopenia is inevitable. Or, is it?
Recent studies show that Resistance Training (RT), can help slow down and even reverse the effects of Sarcopenia. Many doctors now recommend RT over cardiovascular conditioning such as walking, biking and swimming. You need muscle to do those activities.
If you lose muscle, you can’t walk, bike, swim or even do ADLs (Activities of Daily Living) such as going up and down stairs, taking objects off of shelves, or picking up your grandchildren to give them a hug.
Unfortunately, people who are middle-aged and older usually have no clue about how to do resistance training. They don’t know enough about the proper exercises, equipment, techniques, weight loads, and nutrition needed to aid in muscle preservation and regeneration. They join commercial gyms and wonder around haphazardly trying to figure out what to do with those fancy machines.
Most older individuals greatly underestimate their own strength and ability. They go for the 2 lb. dumbbells when they can actually do biceps curls with much heavier loads. They do just a couple of reps (with bad form) and stop at the point the muscle starts to burn and never push it to failure so it can grow. And they don’t eat enough protein to repair muscle and stimulate new muscle growth.
One of my former clients was an 84-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s that stood about 5′ tall and weighed about 105 lbs. She could bench press her own weight and had no problem picking up a set of 20 lb. dumbbells for biceps curls.
This is why group fitness classes like boot camps are ideal for people even in their 50s, 60s, and even 70s. Not that boot camps are programs designed for old people; they’re not. But, good, professionally run programs are designed to allow people of any age or fitness level to work within their limits and abilities to gradually improve their strength and endurance. A good instructor will offer modifications when appropriate.
Group fitness workouts are all planned out and the instructor(s) demonstrate the exercises and equipment. Participants learn how to exercise and eat properly and are educated on other topics that can benefit their long-term health, holding Sarcopenia at bay as long as possible.
So, whether you are approaching 40 or are well past it and into your 50s, 60s, 70s or beyond and you feel like your are losing strength and muscle, it’s up to you to keep Sarcopenia from zapping your body of muscle.
You CAN do something about it. Search your area for age- and fitness-level-appropriate fitness programs or schedule a one-on-one fitness consultation and assessment with a reputable fitness professional to determine which program is right for you.