Running in the 'Meda: Aging and muscle loss

Running in the 'Meda: Aging and muscle loss

Marty Beene

After age 30, we tend to lose muscle mass at a rate of three to five percent per decade if we don't do something about it, a natural process called sarcopenia. Once we hit around 65 or 70 years old, that loss accelerates.

Losing muscle mass is a big deal because that means we lose strength - and we all need strength, even for the most innocuous tasks of our day-to-day lives. Worse yet, if we don't do something about losing that strength, our chances of falling and injuring ourselves increases. Trust me, you don't want to fall and break something when you're old.

In a fitness context, I generally think of "seniors" to be anyone over 50. That comes as something of a shock to people when I tell them that, as most of us think of ourselves reaching that designation at some point over age 60. Even more surprising to many people is when I tell them that they should begin preparing for the physical part of their lives as seniors when they hit 40, an age that I call a "pre-senior."

This sounds depressing, but there is some really good news, too: Strength training can prevent or reverse this trend. This doesn't mean you have to run down to Sports Basement and buy some huge weightlifting machine or a set of barbells, unless you want to. Remember that strength training is simply any kind of exercise involving resistance to your muscles. It's nice to have a set of simple tools to help you with your strength routine, like some dumbbells and resistance bands, but you don't have to go that route.

The photo with my blog today shows a few things I keep handy for my own routine: a couple pairs of dumbbells of different weights, a set of resistance bands, a resistance tube with handles, and an old soccer ball that I put a few pounds of sand into to make my own medicine ball. I also utilize body weight exercises, like pushups.

All you have to do to have a positive effect on your declining strength is do some kind of strength routine at least a few days a week. If you were to do this for, say, 20 to 30 minutes three days a week, you would definitely notice an improvement within just a few weeks. If you could do that same routine five or six times a week, you would notice a significant change.

Remember that the key to any strength program is to build a balance of strength throughout your body. Don't just exercise your arms, or just your legs, or just your core. Exercise everything!

A certified trainer can help you with specific exercises and - most importantly! - make sure you are doing them correctly. One way to get into the habit of this kind of training is to join a class (I hate the term "boot camp" because I envision some drill sergeant shouting at people, even though the trainers I know would never do that).

I'm starting up a class (which I refuse to call a boot camp) for "fitness seniors" and "pre-seniors" next month. We're going to meet in a park three days a week and learn and do a simple strength circuit that is exactly what I'm talking about. If you're interested in joining me, shoot me an e-mail at marty@BeTheRunner.com. You can also get more details at my web site, which is linked below.

Marty Beene, a NASM-certified personal trainer with a specialization in senior fitness, is owner of Be The Runner; he coaches and trains adults from beginners to veterans individually and in groups. He can be reached at marty@BeTheRunner.com.