We all lose muscle as we age, and we’re not talking the decline of middle age. Muscle mass begins to wane as early as 20. The fast-twitch goes first, followed by the slow-twitch, which makes sense since most of us are better at endurance than speed as we get older.
In an effort to lose weight, many of us think cardio is best, and give less of our attention to resistance or weight training. But it’s important to stay strong, and reap added benefits to our waistline and health.
- As we age, when we gain weight, we gain it as fat. When we lose weight, half of what older adults lose is muscle.
- Research has shown that strength training is more effective than cardio at melting away intra-abdominal fat (aka belly fat that surrounds our organs). Besides being aesthetically undesirable, belly fat is linked to heart disease, diabetes, and some forms of cancer.
- When we stop exercising we lose muscle rapidly. The good news is that we can gain most of it back in as little as 3 months.
- Strength training boosts metabolism. Since muscle is metabolically active tissue, the more muscle you have, the more calories you can consume without gaining weight. (For every 10 lbs. of lean muscle, you’ll burn an additional 25-50 calories a day.) The shift in metabolism some see as they age is partly due to gradual muscle loss.
- Joint pain and connective tissue problems (aching knees, shoulders, ankles, hips) are pretty common complaints. When we build muscle we also strengthen our connective tissues, keeping our bodies balanced, strong and less susceptible to aches and pains.
- Resistance training combats bone loss because weight-bearing exercise increases bone mineral density. In fact, exercise is better than osteoporosis drugs for offsetting bone loss. This is true for athletes as well as sedentary folks. Since falls are a growing concern as we age, staying strong protects our bones if we topple.
Now for the HOW:
In order to maintain your current level of strength, you only need to do resistance training one day a week. To build strength, give your muscles a workout 3x a week. Do 3 sets with 8 reps each set, lifting enough weight to bring your muscles to exhaustion. Better to not be able to finish your sets than to breeze through them because you’re not challenging your body.
You may be thinking this all sounds too complicated. You don’t know how to use those machines. Maybe the weight room intimidates you, or you don’t belong to a gym. Sorry to say those excuses won’t fly, because you can fit ten minutes of strength training into your day almost anywhere with little or no equipment.
If you’re just beginning or if you’re short on time, start with plank. You get a lot of bang for your buck with this move. It’s the single most effective exercise to strengthen abs, shoulders, arms, legs and glutes,
Support your body on your toes and forearms, keeping your shoulders directly above your elbows, and arms shoulder-width apart. Your head, neck, back and legs should form a flat, straight line. Keep your core and legs engaged and hold the position for 30 seconds, breathing normally.
Repeat every day, increasing the time little by little. By challenging your body, you’ll be impressed how quickly your plank time increases. Muscles worked are primarily the abdominals and the erector spinae (running the full length of your back), Shoulders, chest, and the thighs also benefit.
Remember, small changes stick. Don’t revamp your routine all at once. Instead add or increase strength training bit by bit. Stay strong and live long!
American College of Sports Medicine, Resistance Training and Injury Prevention.
American Fitness, “Getting Older, Day by Day,” by Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD. March, April 2014.
Women’s Health Magazine. The Best Strength Training for Women: You may be missing out on the best body shaper exercises out there. by Lauren Aaronson. March 9, 2009.