Pick up any fitness magazine these days and it’s likely to contain an article about exercise and aging. You’ll read about losing muscle tone and muscle mass at an alarmingly increasing rate as advanced age sets in. What’s more, you’ll read that as you lose the muscle it’s likely to be replaced by fat. Muscles and skin lose tone and start to look more like drapery. Very depressing, and it all starts at ripe old age of 40.
The technical term for this process is “Sarcopenia“. It’s something that is built into the human aging process. Until recently it was believed there was nothing to be done to slow it down. And the simple truth is, it is inevitable. But there’s some hope! Studies performed on older athletes that exercise seriously and are dedicated to their workout routines can dramatically delay the loss of muscle.
There is a lot of good advice available on-line, in magazines and in books on how to deal with muscle loss. One of the best books is “Younger Next Year” by Chris Crowley and Dr. Harry Lodge. The book is an easy read. The authors use humor, and switch back and forth to keep it interesting.
The authors use a simple graph to demonstrate the aging process and the human ability to stay conditioned. The graph is in the form of an arc. Starting as a young person the arc curves upward gently and reaches a peak at about age 28. It may level off for a while and then starts to drop off as we age. As we approach our 80’s most of us find ourselves on a steep downward slide. What I find really interesting about this is that for some of us the arc drops of very rapidly after 40, while others glide down more gradually into old age. Some people manage to stay active and even compete athletically well into their 90’s.
The purpose of the book is to show us how we can slow down the rapid decline of our condition or even reverse it to a point where we become more fit than we were in years previous, thus the term “Younger Next Year.”
A recent study on muscle loss has shown some very dramatic and encouraging results. The research was based on men that were dedicated to exercising most of their lives. In response to the arc described earlier, this study asks: “If a person is dedicated to staying active throughout their life, as they finally start the downward slide in their physical condition, at which point (age) is their condition equal to what it was at age 19 when they were on the way up?” If you thought this point would arrive at a much younger age, the answer may surprise you. The study showed that an individual that takes exercise seriously can be in as good condition at age 65 as s/he was at age 19.
In the March/April copy of AARP magazine, contributor Gretchen Reynolds points out how important it is to be aggressive about your workout routine as you age. She asks, “Are the changes in our bodies due to aging or to lifestyle?” In other words, do we talk ourselves into slowing down just because we’re 60 or 70? When in reality, taking those regular long walks, as many older people do, may benefit your cardiovascular condition but you need to include serious weight resistance training at least three times a week to slow down the loss of muscle and bone strength.
For some of us, that’s not as easy as it sounds. We are conditioned to believe slowing down is good as we age and we look forward to “time on the couch.”
The first wave of the “Baby Boomers” are already over 65, and believe it or not, we are seeing more and more “seniors” coming in to the club to work out. They are no longer “too busy” to have a daily dedicated exercise routine. They just need to be a bit more aware of their heart rate, and recognize when they are over doing it and learn to throttle back. But beyond that, many of our older members are right there with the younger ones, working out regularly.
As you age, it takes longer to recover from injuries when they do occur (and you are more susceptible to disease). Recovery time means “down time,” which in turn allows backsliding to happen. Inactivity means “decay” as Crowley calls it in his book. Decay will come with time. It is inevitable. However, fighting it off can give you pleasantly surprising results. You can become more fit than you were in previous years. Granted, it does take hard work, dedication, and a steady hand on that throttle. If you’re willing to invest, the payoff is great. You’ll not only feel good about yourself, you’ll look better and your quality of life will improve.
The investment is well worth the return.
At Elite we strive to offer health & fitness programs for all age groups, including our growing senior population. But don’t wait to get old, to get fit! Start now with a fitness assessment and orientation to see the areas you need to improve or maintain. Not familiar with our five Elite Sports Clubs locations? Take a tour today!
Do you believe age is just a number? What is one thing you are already doing or plan to do to help “delay your decay”? Tell us in the comments!