Okay, so this post isn’t entirely about preventing aging. Unfortunately, aging is a fact of life. BUT, we can do lots to reduced the age-related decline in function, strength, fatigue…
This post is actually about resistance training. Here are a couple of common questions and associated misconceptions.
Q: Should I stop strength training when I’m older?
Q: Should older people avoid lifting weights?
Are you starting to feel old? Maybe you feel a little more tired than you used to..? You’re certainly not getting any younger. Probably shouldn’t exercise should you? Definitely stay away from the weights, just as your parents/grandparents should do the same….right?
You most definitely should strength train, and recommend your parents/grandparent to do the same. Granted, the levels of ability are going to be different and exercises should be tailored accordingly, but here’s why you should never neglect resistance training – especially you too ladies!!
Sarco-what? Sarcopenia is Greek term for ‘‘poverty of flesh’ ’and it refers to the age-related loss of muscle mass and strength. This explains, in part, why older people find it increasingly difficult to get up out of a chair, lift shopping and other activities of daily living (ADL).
Here’s the worrying bit – studies have shown that muscle mass starts to decrease in the 4th decade of life and progresses at a rate of 0.5%-1% per year (Jansen et al, 2000). What’s more, there’s a corresponding increase in fat within the muscle (Parise and Yarasheski 2000). There’s also an unfavourable change in the proportion of fast- and slow-twitch muscle fibres, but we won’t go in to that. Upshot is that ADLs become harder to perform as you get older. SIGH.
The picture seems pretty bleak, doesn’t it? Do not fear – there’s an amazing treatment that can offset these age-related declines. You don’t have to take medication and it’s freely available. What is it?
This is THE most effective way to combat sarcopenia. Resistance training stimulates muscle growth and improves muscle strength and there’s heaps of evidence to show that it works in the elderly (see here for a review) and frail (see here for an example study), even if they have no history of weight training.
Regular resistance training increases protein synthesis (the building of muscle tissue), the size of the individual muscle fibres and accordingly improves muscle strength. This increase in the ability to produce force makes ADLs less challenging and in elderly populations can have a massively positive impact on quality of life.
You may not be elderly, or old reading this, but think about the future and think about your relatives. The benefits of performing regular resistance training now will carry through in to later life. Being a life-long couch potato will catch-up with you and in your 50s and 60s you’ll find others who’ve been habitually active stride past you on the stairs or in the supermarket. It’s never too late to start, so if you don’t already, start resistance training today. Your local council gym should be able to help you as a first port of call.
Oh, and a final word. Make sure you eat enough protein in your diet. About 1.2-1.8 grams per kg of body mass should be enough, more probably for the aged and elderly. You can’t build muscle tissue of you don’t ingest the building blocks…but that’s another post.