Okay, January’s over. So are all the resolutions.
But you can still make a profound impact on your strength and health in 2017. One that might be the difference in the quality of life you want no matter your age.
I’m talking about building stronger bones and muscle mass. (Stop that eye rolling and sighing. Consider a few things and then decide.)
Our bones are important, and we want them as strong as they can be. Hip and spine density can have a major influence on the risk for falls. The stronger your bone, the better your balance. The better your balance, the more likely you can walk with confidence, negotiate unsteady surfaces, and even stand more comfortably in the kitchen, at a museum, or while watching your grandson play soccer.
A woman’s bone density peaks at age 35, then decreases slowly (1 to 2%) after menopause. A Tufts University study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that strength training increases bone density and reduces the risk of fractures among women aged 50 to 70.
Strength training decreases the risk for osteoporosis. (And gentlemen, 20% of patients with osteoporosis are men.) Regular weight training can actually have a positive effect on this. This is major if your doctor has told you that you are losing bone density, or you are already on medication. I sure prefer a little huffing and puffing to taking pills.
According to the Mayo Clinic, muscle burns 5 times more calories than fat does. Studies show that after working out with weights, you can rev up your metabolism for up to 38 hours after a workout. Great news.
But building muscle mass is about more than burning fat.
It’s about being able to lift 5 pounds of sugar, 20 pounds of potatoes, or 30 pounds of dog food. It’s about being able to get up out of a chair unassisted. Holding a grandchild. Swimming a few laps in the pool and then getting out safely. Carrying golf clubs. Hiking a trail.
That’s why weight training for everyone 50 and over (that includes 60, 70, 80, 90….) is so powerful. It builds both bone mass and muscle mass. If you’re working your muscles, you’re working your bones. And vice versa.
While there of course are variations between men and women, studies suggest that sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss) begins at age 45. Strength then decreases by approximately 15% per decade in our 60s and 70s, and about 30% after that.
To me, that’s scary.
I have no plans to become Wonder Woman, but I would like to know that I will be able to carry my groceries, pick up a toddler, or open a bag of Chili Cheese Fritos when I’m older. (We all have our priorities.)
So what do you do? And how often do you do it?
It’s up to each individual of course, but the experts say that some type of weight lifting regimen done two to three times a week can make a big difference no matter your age.
Even a 90-year-old who has never picked up a weight can build muscle mass. Remember Jack LaLanne? He never stopped working out, living to the strong age of 96.
I went to a real-live fitness expert for her thoughts. Anne is a certified ACE instructor, certified to teach seniors, certified to teach spinning, has competed in and finished triathlons and Ironmans. She also is certified to teach Body Pump.
Anne wants everyone to know that “Change is always possible; never think you are hopeless. The biggest factor truly is the quality of our lives. Will we be able to do what we want as we age? Not working muscles and bones can really affect quality of life and whether we can live at home independently.
“The great news is you are never too old to improve your muscle mass. If you’ve been inactive a long time, the key is just to start slow and pace yourself. And even if you are wheelchair-bound, it’s possible to do simple weight training and get results.”
She says what we hear so often, because it’s true. “Make it a way of life, not a two-week fix. What we want are small changes that we can live with over time…this can result in a big change.”
And for those who dread the idea of getting up early, or going to a class, or trying something new?
“Even when you don’t want to go, chances are once you get there and do the activity, you will feel better. I’ve never been sorry later that I made myself get up early and go. Plus it’s more than exercise. If you go to a gym or participate in a group class, you make wonderful relationships, which is even more important as we get older. It’s a support system, which is very good for us as well. As an instructor, I have been profoundly affected by how I become involved in people’s lives, and the opportunity to see the progress they make.”
Anne says everyone plays a part.
“An instructor can change a life, but so can another person in a class. Maybe your friend doesn’t want to go, but sees you going and how well you are doing and decides that maybe now’s the time to try it. It’s a powerful nurturing effect we all can have on one another.” I have found that to be true as well. Everyone feels shy about walking into a gym, rec center or class for the first time. But once you’re through the door, you’re welcomed and supported. Working with a certified personal trainer or in a class with a certified instructor is the best way to gain confidence quickly—and learn the proper form so you can get the benefits without injury.
More muscle mass, stronger bones, and reduced symptoms of arthritis, diabetes, obesity, back pain and depression—weight training sounds pretty awesome.
And it’s fun! Really. I personally like how it feels afterward…like I’ve really tested myself and can feel the difference. Starting slow is truly important. But if you stick with it, I bet you’ll get hooked.
Hey, don’t get defeated because you didn’t do anything new for yourself in January. January’s for amateurs!
Ask the groundhog: February is when the REAL change can begin!
“I don’t care how old I live; I just want to be LIVING while I am living!”