I was talking the other day about some interesting statistics relating to strength and aging, during a presentation I was giving on ‘Usual’ vs ‘Successful’ Aging. The focus of my talk was to compare what ‘usually’ happens with strength to what can happen. More importantly, I wanted to talk about what actually does happen with persons who intentionally set out to increase their strength through a regular program of strength training. After the talk, I spent some time with members of the audience and we discussed a number of important points relating to active, healthy aging. I wanted to share these with you over the next two posts.
You CAN read on now!
BTW I have also included some photos and testimonials from past programs to add some real-life flavor to this post.
The first thing we discussed was muscle strength
“I feel that I have lost a lot of strength in the last 5-10 years. Is there any way to stop or even slow this loss? Can I actually increase my strength even though I am over 60?”
- Here’s what ‘usually’ happens: When we age we lose on average about 1% of our maximal strength per year. While this process is ultimately inevitable, how fast we lose this and how much we lose is within our control
- Here’s what you CAN DO: Research has shown that up to four decades of ‘usual’ strength loss can actually be reversed over a period of 6 months or less with regular participation in an appropriately designed strength training program. If this sounds too good to be true – read on!
“Before starting [this] program, I could not do my house work, yard work, now I can. I also can lift my portable TV, never could before.” Hazel, 75
“When I started these exercises I had to have a wheelchair to go to the store, I no longer need it and I’m feeling much better all the time.” Alice, 88
We also have a considerable amount of data showing that, when you increase your strength, your activities of daily living become much easier to perform. For example getting out of a chair can be a major challenge for some older adults. However after strength training, individuals who could only get up and down out of a chair 6 or 7 times in 30 seconds were able to do this 10 or 12 times. This is a major and meaningful improvement in functional capacity, and almost a doubling in strength!
As well as strength, my audience also asked about muscle mass…
“How important is it to maintain muscle mass – and how much does this impact your health?”
- Here’s what ‘usually’ happens: We lose about half a pound of muscle mass per year from the age of 30. By the time we hit 70 we will have lost about 30% of our 30 year old muscle mass. To put this in real life terms – a 30 year old woman with 50 pounds of muscle mass has enough strength to easily cope with everyday challenges, and even to participate in sports and leisure time events with ease. By age 70 she will have only about 30 pounds of muscle mass – and a much lower level of physical strength – something that will have a major impact on her physical independence. This is not an isolated occurrence and has been confirmed by a number of national research surveys. For example The Framingham Study – a long term national survey of the health and wellness status of adults all across the US – found that more than half the women over age 70 in that survey could not even lift a 10 pound weight, let alone a grocery bag or a grandchild!
- Here’s what you CAN DO: Strength training has overwhelmingly been shown to increase muscle mass in a meaningful and rewarding fashion. Here’s my own example: In my very first research project with older adults (way, way back in the early 1990’s), I found that a 12 week program of strength training in men aged 65-82 increased measures of muscle mass by about 14%. Later research with more sophisticated measuring equipment has confirmed that that older adults can gain more than a pound of muscle with every month of strength training.
By the way, this doesn’t need to take hours of exercising! You can get great results from 2-3 times a week with a single set of 6 strength training exercises. Sessions like this take less than 30 minutes!
I have seen the difference this kind of strength training makes to many older adults. It gives them a new outlook on life and new independence! The final thing is … greater muscle mass is not only linked to greater muscle strength but also to greater bone strength, and to reduced risk of falls (More later!). You get a ‘triple whammy’! How cool is that!
The bottom line from this conversation – and from many of the other posts on this blog – is that you CAN get stronger, you CAN increase your muscle size and you CAN have a life that is more than ‘the Usual!
“When I enrolled in this program … my walking was unsteady and I was unable to stand erect while walking. After two months of strength training, I began to feel better, and walk with a more certain gait. Now, I look forward to the next training day because everyday I make more progress, and feel better about myself. Thank you for making this great program available.” Joe, 81
QUESTION: What kind of CAN do see yourself doing with greater strength?
Be part of the conversation – record your thoughts or opinions on this post in the comments box below – or ask a question of your own.
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