The aging process can be slowed—or even reversed! But you must develop a concern for strength and muscle! If health, vitality, and a long life free from serious disability is what you want—you must consider what I’m about to say…
The most prevalent condition to occur with age is sarcopenia, or what is better known as frailty. Sarcopenia is the medical term for “muscle weakening” or “body thinning.” It is basically the muscle equivalent of osteopenia (bone thinning), or osteoporosis. Unfortunately, this condition has received little attention, even though its prevention is at the very heart of living a functional, independent life into older age.
Even a young person, if you confine him to bed or a chair will biologically age in fitness by almost two decades in just 21 days! This was actually demonstrated in the 60’s by Swedish physiologist Bengt Saltin. Since older people’s bodies are already predisposed to losing muscle tissue and strength (‘use it or lose it’ remember?) if we put them in a bed or easy chair for 21 days we can cripple them for the rest of their lives!
In fact, this just recently happened to a colleague of mine’s grandfather, who was 87 and living independently at home before being admitted to the hospital for 3 weeks. Since he wasn’t fed enough tasty food, and got no exercise or physical activity whatsoever, he promptly lost 16 pounds, and all the strength necessary to live independently. He now lacks the strength to do anything and everything that he could do just a month earlier and the family has had to put him in a nursing home. Tragic.
Life extension and anti-aging have been pursued with increasing interest over the last couple of decades, so you can imagine my surprise when one of the only documented research studies showing reversal of aging at the cellular, genetic level in humans went largely ignored. In 2007, researchers published work revealing that a very basic weight training program practiced just twice a week improved strength, and actually reversed aging in 179 genetic markers at the cellular level. These people’s bodies were beginning to operate on a level that was many years their junior! A person who is 70 years old can weight train and more than double their strength over time—easily outdoing a sedentary person two or more decades their junior! Or they can be sedentary, and lose muscle and strength to the level of a 90 year old! Your chronological age has little to do actually with how old you feel, or how old you are biologically. It is MUCH more important to think in terms of healthy function and strength, and that is subject to 50-100% improvement or more with training.
The good news is, we have not found an age where the ravages of sarcopenia can’t be reversed in a willing participant who can move themselves, and maybe need only moderate assistance. In 1990, a study was done with nursing home residents in their 90s (each possessing at least three to four chronic diseases a piece)! The researchers wanted to know if the resident’s frailty and low muscle strength could be aided even at their advanced age. Working with the leg extension machine three times a week, these residents showed over a 150% increase in strength in just 8 weeks! For a few this meant being able to stand unassisted, or walk without a cane. The potential was there all along but had been allowed to wane by neglect. The sad thing is that after the research ended, all the residents resumed their sedentary lifestyles, and when the researcher’s returned just 30 days later they found they had already lost 32% of what they had gained. So while strength training is vitally important, it is equally important to recognize that whether young or old, we cannot store up the benefit. We must be faithful to challenge our musculature regularly to build and maintain our strength and independence. And people NEED support. Sometimes we just don’t do what we know we should, and that is when we need to reach out and get the extra help and motivation we need. Here at BWC that includes the social support from group classes like Arthritis Aquatics or Forever Fit, or the support and experience of a knowledgeable trainer to be there and help you. If you recognize your need to build up your strength and health and are looking for help to get started give me a call at 706-278-WELL (just ask for Tom) or come see us at the Bradley Wellness Center on Broadrick Dr. We’ll be glad to help you!
Written by: Thomas Morrison, Fitness Coordinator, Bradley Wellness Center