Strength training has the power to stall, if not completely reverse, the effects of aging, according to Jim Karas, the bestselling author of The Cardio-Free Diet.
After the age of twenty, the average person loses one-half to seventeenths of a pound of muscle per year. That’s five to seven pounds of your body’s most precious tissue lost every decade. Some research indicates that by your late twenties, that number could be closer to one percent loss of lean muscle tissue a year. That will make a significant difference in your body’s composition and, therefore, your metabolism.
At the onset of menopause, the rate at which a woman loses muscle doubles. So many women have said to me over the years, “What is happening? My clothes don’t fit. None of my diet tricks are working. I feel as if my body has taken on a life of its own.” They are right! If you continue eating the same number of calories, you will start storing as body fat the extra calories your muscles used to burn. Strength training is the only way to stop the loss of lean muscle tissue.
After the age of seventy, the average man and woman lose muscle at the same alarming rate of three pounds a year. So what was a five-to-seven-pound loss of muscle per decade during your “Roaring Twenties” can be as much as a thirty-pound loss in your “Weakening Seventies” if you don’t strength train.
For most seniors, muscle loss will determine the difference between living in an independent environment or in a dependent one. I often say in speeches:
If You Don’t Lift, You Don’t Last
Strength training is the fountain of youth. It’s vital to build as much lean muscle tissue as possible and then maintain it before your senior status. But even in your nineties, your body has the ability to rebuild your lean muscle tissue. Consider the following results:
- Research from Tufts University showed that individuals in their nineties who strength trained three times a week for eight weeks increased their overall strength by 300 percent!
- A three-year study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that older and younger healthy men created new muscle proteins at similar rates. Before that study, we believed that the ability to create new muscle would diminish with age.
- Ball State University researchers found that strength training increased an individual’s fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are what you use to prevent a slip or fall. Age-related muscle loss, known as sarcopenia, occurs primarily in the fast-twitch muscles. Please note that one-half of all seniors who suffer a fall and break a hip die within a year.
- Researchers at the University of Alabama took a group aged sixty-one to seventy-seven and had them strength train three times a week for six months. The results: On average they lost six pounds of fat, they gained four and a half pounds of muscle, and they increased their metabolism by 12 percent — which translated into 230 more calories burned each and every day from when they started.
It is never, ever too late to start strength training. As a matter of fact, the older you get, the more you stand to gain in overall health from maintaining and increasing your lean muscle tissue:
- increased bone density, which will prevent fractures and breaks
- improved cholesterol levels, which reduces the risk of heart disease
- reduced blood pressure, which lowers the risk of heart attack or stroke
- enhanced glucose metabolism, which helps to prevent type 2 diabetes
- minimized arthritis pain, because when you strengthen your muscles, tendons, and ligaments and you lose weight, you take pressure off of your joints
- diminished lower back pain, as you increase the strength throughout your body (including your core)
- sped-up digestion, which reduces the risk of colon cancer
- lowered stress levels, which are now being identified as the key to a longer, healthier life
- improved golf game. Strength training increases the distance of your drive and the accuracy of your putting, because more strength equals more muscular control. For years this has been my most successful argument with men, who then buy 100 percent into the program.
While traveling throughout the country, I frequently present a speech entitled “The Strength Solution for Seniors” and explain the concept of allostatic load. Allostatic load is a modern-day measure of stress and factors that have been shown to increase or decrease lifespan. These include waist-to-hip ratio, variance in heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, cholesterol, and, most important, the stress hormones cortisol, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. When you compare this list to the list of benefits strength training offers, you’ll see that no one can afford to ignore strength training. In fact, you might be compelled to put this book down and give me twenty push-ups — but I’d be happy if you did just one to start.
The quote “The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step” applies perfectly to embracing strength training. If you can accomplish one push-up, odds are that in the very near future this number will go to two, then three, and so on, and you will go on to accomplish so much more with your mind and body. I want you to remember this phrase:
Accomplishment Creates Energy
Wouldn’t we all like to possess more energy? By embracing strength training, you won’t believe what you can accomplish in just a small amount of time.
One final, critical benefit of strength training: Unlike cardio, it requires you to think. With strength training, you have to plan what exercises you are going to perform and concentrate while you are counting repetitions and sets. There is an old weight lifter expression “Link the mind to the muscle,” and research proves that the more you simply think about your muscles, the more muscle fiber you will actually recruit during strength training. More muscle fiber recruited translates into more muscular growth. This concentration challenges the brain, and numerous studies prove that the more you expose the brain to new stimuli, the more you keep your brain strong and young.
Walking or any other form of cardio does very, very little to slow the aging process. It doesn’t build muscle mass, and it can even accelerate the loss of lean muscle tissue at a time that you desperately need it most. Cardio benefits your heart, but you can achieve 85 percent of those benefits through strength training and get so much more out of the time you allocate to exercise. Any exercise at all is better than none, but if you’re going to take the time out of your busy schedule to exercise, shouldn’t it be the form that will give you the biggest bang for your buck?
Today very few seniors over the age of seventy-five strength train. Most fear that they will injure themselves or that the exercises will be too complicated.
For many years, my firm in Chicago and New York has provided personal fitness training to clients in their sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties. You would not believe how a lot of these people look and feel. They have increased overall strength, improved their posture, and eliminated pain, and they walk with the gait and confidence of someone decades younger. Many of them have told me that strength training has changed their lives, and their only regret is they wish they had done it sooner. Two doctors even took the time to call and ask me, “What have you been doing with my patient? I can’t believe the difference from their last physical.”
In the Cardio-Free Eating Plan, I urge you to cut calories and teach you how to control your caloric intake. Not only will this enable you to effectively lose weight, but it very well may slow the aging process. Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis examined the effects of calorie restriction on twenty-eight people for more than six years. They found that cutting calories reduced two significant effects of aging, a thyroid hormone called triiodothyronine, which has been shown to help control cellular metabolism and energy balance in the body, and an inflammatory molecule called tumor necrosis factor alpha. This combined reduction slows down the aging process in humans. The results reinforced an earlier study on rats that showed that those rats on calorie-restricted diets lived longer.
By strength training and reducing your caloric intake, you will lose weight, look and feel so much better, and add years to your life. How can you even consider any other option?
Your body naturally wants its muscle back. It wants to feel young again, to be strong, to be pain- and injury-free. It wants to bound up a flight of stairs and get on the ground and play with the kids. Challenge your muscles and your brain with strength training, and both will thank you with enhanced performance. You’ll lose weight, turn back the clock, and get in amazing shape, regardless of your age.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Named one of the best personal trainers in the country by Allure magazine, Jim Karas is the author of The Cardio-Free Diet (Copyright © 2007 by Jim Karas), as well as the New York Times bestseller The Business Plan for the Body and Flip the Switch. He is a graduate of the Wharton School and the founder of Jim Karas Personal Training, LLC, which has trained more than five hundred clients in Chicago and New York.
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