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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What kind of exercise makes sense past 50?

The old wisdom said exercise should taper off in intensity as a person gets older.  We now know that's bunk!  When you hear terms like sarcopenia (decreasing muscle mass) it is almost exclusively applied to older people.  The science has proven pretty conclusively it has nothing to do with age.  It's about how much a muscle gets used.

So why should you care?  What's so great about muscle, anyway?

Muscle is is important past middle age for at least two reasons.  First of all, it moves you.  Muscle is what makes you able to pick up a grandchild or move a bale of hay or participate in a sport or carry a bag of groceries.  It equals how functional your body is. 

I've been pushing the idea that function is our natural birthright.  Frail, sick and limited is not our birthright.  There is a marathon runner who is 100 years old.  There are centenarians who live alone, drive, garden, participate in sports and hobbies they love.  There is an award winning body builder who is over 70.  Muscle is what makes all that possible.

The other purpose of muscle is about vanity.  It looks better.  For women, that swinging flapping upper arm syndrome happens when the triceps muscle no longer keeps the area taut.  Cellulite happens when fat overtakes muscle that's declining.  And it will without exercise.
Look at these pictures.  The woman weighs the same in both pictures.  Which would you rather look like?
Muscle loss is a result of not using it.  Muscle development is a result of using it.  Simple.  That's where exercise comes in.

Let me mention a pet peeve of mine.  There is lots of talk about what good exercise walking is.  It's certainly better than sitting on a couch.  It is not going to do anything for your muscles unless your walking is up hills and mountains, and lasts for many hours.  If you want function and to look good.  lift and move heavy stuff with some real intensity.  It does not have to be in a gym.  But intensity is the key, and if your exercise does not get your heart beat up and make you breathe hard--if you don't feel it in your muscles, it's not doing much.

Here is a link to an article that has some very interesting pictures.

Which upper leg do you think looks good?  Which person do you think can still carry bags of potting soil and grandchildren and have fun? 

Now, those pics of upper leg muscle were from people who used their legs in high intensity.  But the kicker is that we didn't see a cross section of the arm muscles and if they're not getting used, they won't show such great aging.  Exercise only preserves the muscles you use.  There’s no “whole body neuroprotective effect,” So if you want to look good and be able to do lots of 'stuff' you must exercise all the muscles of your body.  Weight training can do that in the shortest amount of time.  It is perfectly safe for older adults.  When I was a personal trainer, I had clients--a husband and wife--he was 90 and she was 87.  Both made huge gains in strength, weight loss and appearance.  It's never too late!  Don't have a gym close by?  Get a few dumbbells, or some bands.  There are many exercises that can be done with no equipment at all. 

Here are some youtube videos of bodyweight exercises

Besides all the nutrition information I've talked about, exercise is the other biggie for looking better and feeling better well into your ninth or tenth decade!