Have you ever heard an old man brag that his weight has not changed since he was twenty-something? That’s great, and as a trainer I am always thrilled to hear that people are keeping their weight in check as they age. However, as a trainer I am far less concerned about the number on the scale and far more concerned about how much of the weight is lean muscle mass and how much of it is fat mass.
Let’s consider the old man again: at 23 years old, his 175 lb. frame probably had a good bit of muscle, and his torso was the shape of an upside down triangle, with broad shoulders and a tapered waistline. Now at 83, if he has not been doing anything to maintain his muscle mass, his 175 lb. frame likely looks like a triangle, only right side up! His broad shoulders and small waist have now become narrow shoulders and a wide waist—but he still weighs 175 lbs, so he does not see the problem.
From a health perspective, however, there is a problem. As we age, both men and women will lose muscle mass and increase fat mass. Since muscle is metabolically active tissue, meaning it requires calories just to exist, the more muscle you have on your frame, the easier it will be to stay lean.
That added body fat also increases the odds that you will suffer from any one of a number of diseases that can be prevented, including diabetes, metabolic syndrome, different cancers, and heart disease.
In 1988, Dr. Irwin H. Rosenberg of Boston’s Tufts University called the process of losing muscle mass “sarcopenia.” Subsequent research at Tufts has shown that from about the age of 45, the average person loses muscle mass at a rate of approximately 1 percent per year, increasing to 1 to 2 percent from the age of 50. Do the math: a loss of even just 1 percent per year between the ages of 45 and 75 means a considerable 30 percent loss in muscle mass—YIKES!
Keep in mind: this age-related loss in muscle mass means a concomitant loss in strength and eventually the possible loss of independence. You don’t know “loss of independence” until you need help with the most basic needs: bathing, going to the bathroom, getting in and out of a vehicle, etc. It’s no fun to need help using the toilet, but for many seniors that have lost strength, it is a reality.
My advice? Five simple words: start resistance training right now! It matters not whether you are young or old, male or female, able-bodied or disabled. If you are alive and breathing, you need to be doing strength training every week to maintain your muscle mass, which translates into maintaining your metabolic rate, staving off increases in body fat, and maintaining a healthy skeletal system and your ability to function independently.
You may be thinking that you are too old to start a resistance training program: you are not.
You may be thinking that you are a beginner and you aren’t able to start a resistance training program: this is incorrect.
You may be thinking that you are a woman and women don’t need to engage in a resistance training program: wrong again.
Whoever you are and whatever your current level of fitness, start resistance training right now!
If you don’t know what you are doing, hire a trainer to get yourself started or find a knowledgeable friend to help you. Make it happen and work as though your life depends on it—it does!
Live with Simplicity,