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The “S” word: Why you especially want to weight train if you’re over 40

By Alex UR Blogger on 11/03/2013

The “S” word: Why you especially want to weight train if you’re over 40

I first heard the word “scarcopenia” (I know, it’s a hard one; just call it the “S” word) when I was in my 40s and attending a medical conference for my job. And it sent me right to a personal trainer. (I just wish I had kept it up…Ten years later, I’m back at it.)

Sarcopenia is a loss of muscle mass that begins in the 30s and progresses precipitously in the 60s. The presenter from Tufts University who spoke on that fateful day showed CT scans of human thighs that hit me like the pictures of smokers’ lungs. The scans clearly showed dwindling muscle mass, and the consequences were dramatically illustrated through his accompanying stories: loss of balance, increased fractures, use of wheelchairs.

When I had seen older people with these problems, I thought it was just the inevitable result of aging. But no. There is a clear line from the loss of muscle mass to the loss of mobility during one’s advanced years.

The good news, however, is that it doesn’t have to be that way. The researcher went on to describe a program of resistance-training (using weights, machines, bands or other devices) for individuals in their 80s and 90s, including those with chronic health problems such as arthritis. The results were dramatic. Muscles of older people were found to be just as responsive as those of younger people!

A few cases in point, described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Tufts University ran a 16-week strength-training program with older men and women with moderate to severe osteoarthritis in their knees. The results: Participants reported a decrease in pain and disability of 43% -- an improvement that was just as potent, if not more so, as medication. Sort of flies in the face of our natural tendency to avoid such physical activity in the face of difficulty, doesn’t it?
  • Another study in New Zealand of women 80 years of age and older found that simple strength and balance training produced a 40% reduction in falls.
  • Still another study conducted on postmenopausal women (also at Tufts University) found an average 1% gain in hip and spine bone density, 75% increase in strength and 13% improvement in balance with just two days per week of strength training. The control group suffered losses in bone density, strength and balance.

The bottom line: Aerobic exercise is great for the cardiovascular system and for reducing body fat, but is only mildly effective in preserving lean body mass. Want to avoid the “s word” in your future? Talk to Ultimate Results about personal training today!


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