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Muscle mass maintenance

Created date

January 29th, 2009
After age 30, people gradually begin to lose muscle mass. By age 75, about 25% of men and 75% of women can t lift more than ten pounds of weight. Every decade of your life, you can lose up to five to seven pounds of muscle tissue. But there is a way to beat the averages. "Muscle loss is related to physiological changes in the body due to aging, but it s also related to a decrease in the use of muscles. The way to treat muscle loss is through physical activity," says Dimitri Cefalu, M.D. Flex your muscles A single muscle is made up of many bundles of muscle fibers covered by layers of tissue that hold the fibers together. Larger muscle fibers mean a larger and stronger muscle, while smaller muscle fibers mean a smaller and weaker muscle. Strength training, also known as resistance training, is a type of exercise that increases the size of muscle fibers and reduces age-related muscle loss. To do strength exercises, you need to lift or push weights, and gradually increase the amount of weight you use. "Regardless of your age, you can avoid further muscle loss and replace a large amount of muscle through a simple strength-training program," says Teresa Reymann, wellness manager at Charlestown, an Erickson-built and -managed community in Catonsville, Md. Small gains, big difference One study examined the benefit of using resistance machines two to three days a week for 30 minutes of strength training. Resistance machines use a weight stack and pulley system to provide resistance against your movement. The participants, age 61 to 80, in the study added an average of 2.4 pounds of muscle. Even small increases in muscle can make a big difference in a person s strength and ability to do things on his or her own. "If you want to be able to lift groceries, climb stairs, and do all the physical things you enjoy, you have to get moving. For muscles, it s use them or lose them, " Reymann says. More than muscles "Strength training also helps your bones get stronger," Reymann adds. When practiced regularly, strength training can build bone density. "Without building muscle and bone strength, you are more apt to fall and get a fracture," explains Leslie Rigali, D.O., Erickson Health physician and medical director at Brooksby Village, a community by Erickson in Peabody, Mass. Strength training can also help control diabetes, high cholesterol, blood pressure, back pain, and pain related to arthritis. It can also increase your metabolism and keep your weight and blood sugar in check. Make it a habit According to the Centers for Disease Control, only 12% of adults age 65 and older report engaging in physical activities specifically designed to strengthen muscles, such as lifting weights or doing calisthenics (exercises like push-ups and jumping jacks that use body weight for resistance). "You should get your muscles working, even if it s two pounds a day," Reymann says. "Exercise should be like brushing your teeth in the morning a habit you do every day." It helps to find strength exercises you enjoy. "Try to find a class you like or maybe exercise in a swimming pool," says Rigali. "Maybe a workout on video or TV is right for you. Talk to a personal trainer at a fitness center about the different machines. Whatever it is, you need to enjoy it to make sure you keep doing it." The hardest part about any exercise routine is simply getting started. "Working out is easy. Being committed to go to the place where you work out is hard. Once you get there, you ve already won," says Reggie Blackmon, wellness manager at Riderwood, a community by Erickson in Silver Spring, Md. Before you start, discuss your ideas about strength training with your doctor. "I can go over the benefits and risks to your health. If you have knee or hip problems, you might want to use a stationary bicycle instead of a treadmill. Other people may have limitations due to arthritic conditions," Cefalu says. Remember it s never too late to start a good habit. "Even at age 95 it s important to maintain your muscle," Rigali says.