A quiet revolution is transforming the way we think about fitness and health in the aging adult. It’s changing our concept of what aging is, how it should be approached by doctors and patients, and how its worst effects can be blunted or even reversed through an intelligent exercise prescription.
Recent research and ample amounts of anecdotal evidence have turned old assumptions about exercise in healthy aging adults inside-out and upside-down. We’ve always known that exercise is important for health. But we have new ideas about the type of activity that will best promote health and physical fitness in aging adults.
We can sum up these new ideas simply: Healthy Aging is Strong Aging.
After decades of equating exercise with aerobic activity such as jogging and cycling, strength training is making a big comeback. And for good reason.
It directly attacks the primary driver of poor health and fitness in aging adults – loss of muscle mass!
There is growing recognition among fitness and medical professionals of the importance of strength training for performance in daily life, for mobility, for a healthy body composition, and for injury prevention.
The impact of strength training is most profound in those in middle age and beyond. Lifting weights has always been viewed by most as a young person’s game, more particularly as a young man’s game.
In recent years, we’ve seen an explosion of published biomedical evidence on resistance training in the aged, and in people suffering from a broad spectrum of health conditions, ranging from diabetes to hypertension to congestive heart failure to Parkinson’s.
What this growing body of data tells us is that everybody who can strength train, should strength train.
This most emphatically includes men and women in their 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond.
Strength training can slow, arrest or even reverse many of the degenerative effects of aging including the loss of muscle and strength, brittle bones, unstable ligaments, dysfunctional joints, and the decline of mobility and balance.
Instead of losing lean muscle mass and replacing it with fat, healthy aging can be characterized by the retention or even addition of healthy, functional muscle tissue.
You can think of every bout of strength training as a prudent deposit into a “Physiological 401K”: saving strong muscle, hard bone, and full mobility for your retirement. As with retirement savings, the benefits are greatest for those who start early and keep at it. But recent research makes it clear that even the very old can get stronger and more powerful, improving their health and quality of life.
In other words – it is never too late to start!
The Optimal Program for Adults Over 40
The optimal program for building muscle, strength, bone, mobility, and balance is nothing new or cutting edge. And it doesn’t consist of jogging or other forms of long duration aerobics.
It consists mainly of a handful of free-weight based exercises such as the Squat, the Deadlift, and the Press (exercises that have been around for decades) that are progressed slowly and conservatively over time. Although these exercises can be learned by highly motivated individuals through their own reading, study, and practice, the movements are best learned under the supervision of a coach who is qualified to teach them. (Note: This is not going to be the 22-year old kid at your local corporate health club).
A program of barbell based resistance training is worth the time and effort it takes to learn them. These types of exercises are far and away the most rational, most effective, simple, safe, method available for building muscle, strength, bone, balance, and mobility.
You’ll learn that a simple, safe, and effective strength training program can be accomplished in a 2-day per week program with about an hour allotted to each training session.
Many beginners may not be physically fit enough to start a barbell-based strength program on Day One. In this case there are a variety of machine based and body weight only exercises that are safe and effective and develop your physical fitness enough to get you into a barbell-based program. And as soon as you can, you should.
Barbells are superior to machine based training for increases in strength, muscle mass, bone density, balance, coordination, and mobility. They are safe and can be progressed slowly and conservatively over time.
The Consequences of Neglect
The end result of waiting another year (or another decade) before you take back control of your body can be catastrophic. Metabolic Syndrome, Sarcopenia, Osteopenia, Frailty, and Polypharmacy can all be the consequences of sitting on the sidelines while age takes another swing. The combination of all these conditions working in concert together can become a living nightmare.
Metabolic Syndrome. The generally recognized physiological components of metabolic syndrome include items such as Visceral Obesity, Insulin Resistance/Pre-Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, High Triglycerides/Cholesterol, and Chronic Inflammation
Sarcopenia & Osteopenia. The loss of muscle mass (sarcopenia) and bone density (osteopenia) are not components of the metabolic syndrome, but they are fellow travelers, and their impact on the decline of health and functionality cannot be overstated. In fact, the loss of muscle tissue is probably the first committed step towards metabolic syndrome. In a clinical setting you rarely find the two (sarcopenia and metabolic syndrome) in isolation from one another.
Polypharmacy. Simply put – lots of medications and drugs. Many of which work antagonistically or synergistically in unwholesome ways. Often times a “pharmaceutical stew” seems to help people limp along from one day to the next – surviving, but not really living. Many drugs may be unnecessary or redundant, and there is potential for harmful interactions that affect body and mind.
Many of these conditions are completely preventable. But unfortunately some people treat their body like a Ferrari and others treat it like a rental – never taking ownership of the one and only vehicle that nature has provided them with.
People abandon and neglect their body over time – and in time, it will abandon them.
Decades of neglect are like a slow moving train wreck. It begins with a little weight gain, a little loss of muscle mass, and a little decline in exercise capacity, a little elevation in blood sugar and blood pressure.
At this stage, people look and feel pretty much the same as they always have. You may have to buy some bigger trousers and tolerate some decline in energy levels, but no big deal, right?
Within a decade these processes have progressed to clinically recognizable disease and moderate functional disability. Within two decades, they have blossomed into full blown diabetes, severe hypertension, morbid obesity, chronic pain, disability, polypharmacy and a miserable quality of life.
I’ve made it my career and my personal mission to help as many people as I can reclaim their health, their physical fitness, and their independence.
In the last 10 years, I’ve helped hundreds of clients improve their health and regain their physical fitness.
I can help you too.
If you are serious about reclaiming your health, your fitness, your independence, and your quality of life then reach out to me and let’s get started. It’s not too late.
If you want to take action early and prevent the onset of metabolic syndrome, sarcopenia, and polypharmacy, then reach out to me and let’s get started.
If not now, when? Don’t wait until the train starts to run off the tracks.
We’ll be here when you are ready!