As you age, it becomes harder to keep your muscles healthy. They get smaller, which decreases strength and increases the likelihood of falls and fractures. New research is showing how this happens, and what to do about it.
Researchers have already shown that when older people eat, they cannot make muscle as fast as the young. Now they've found that the suppression of muscle breakdown is blunted with age. This may explain the ongoing loss of muscle in older people -- when they eat they don't build enough muscle, and in addition, their insulin fails to shut down the muscle breakdown that rises between meals and overnight.
However, weight training may "rejuvenate" muscle blood flow and help retain muscle for older people.
These findings fall into the category of common sense, along the lines of "use it or lose it." As you age, physical exercise becomes an ever more important aspect of optimal health and longevity.
How to Prevent and Reverse Muscle Wasting
This study explains the biological processes that cause muscle wasting as you move into your senior years.
As you likely know, protein is essential for proper muscle growth and maintenance, but this study found that as you age, your body becomes increasingly less able to use the protein in your food for building muscle.
In addition, they found that, in seniors, insulin no longer prevented the muscle breakdown between meals and overnight as it normally does in younger subjects.
This double-whammy adds up to significant muscle wasting in sedentary seniors. And poor blood supply, which prevents proper delivery of nutrients and hormones to your muscles, may be an important factor.
Exercise is the natural remedy for poor blood circulation, and the team confirmed that three weight training sessions per week over 20 weeks rejuvenated blood flow in the extremities to the point that they were identical to those in the younger group!
How's that for results!!
Beware of Drugs That Can Cause Irreversible Damage to Your Muscles
Before going any further, I also want to remind you of one very common cause of excessive muscle wasting, aside from a sedentary lifestyle, namely: statin drugs.
Statins are a class of drugs used to lower your cholesterol, and are among the most commonly prescribed medications in the world.
They have many dangerous side effects, one of which is a serious degenerative muscle tissue condition called rhabdomyolysis, which can be fatal (as your heart is a muscle, and can be affected by these drugs).
Statins such as Lipitor, Zocor, Pavacol and Mevacor lower your cholesterol by inhibiting HMG-CoA reductase, a key enzyme in cholesterol synthesis. But they can also activate the atrogin-1 gene, which plays a key role in muscle atrophy.
One recent study showed that even low concentrations of these drugs led to atrogin-1 induced muscle damage. And the higher the dosage, the greater the damage.
The Importance of Weight Training for Optimal Health
Unfortunately, many ignore weight training when devising their exercise plan, thinking they don't want to "bulk up."
But gaining more muscle through resistance exercises is an integral part of any well rounded fitness program, especially if you want to lose weight.
However, weight training is not about vanity.
The intensity of your resistance training can achieve a number of beneficial changes on the molecular, enzymatic, hormonal, and chemical level in your body, which will help slow down (and many cases stop) many of the diseases caused by a sedentary lifestyle.
Therefore it's also an essential element if you want to prevent common diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, or weakening of your bones (osteoporosis), limited range of motion, aches and pains, and yes, prevent excessive muscle wasting as you age.
I recently published an article on exercise for weight loss, so let's take a look at some of the other benefits of exercise as it relates to maintaining optimal health well into your senior years.
How Weight Lifting Can Reduce Your Risk of Diabetes and Heart Disease
Your body has two types of fat: visceral and subcutaneous.
- Subcutaneous fat is the fat located just below your skin, and is the type that causes dimpling and cellulite.
- Visceral fat, on the other hand, shows up in your abdomen and surrounds your vital organs including your liver, heart and muscles. It is this visceral fat that has been linked to serious health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke, among many other chronic diseases.
A key strategy to reduce your risk of heart disease (and a host of other chronic diseases), is to keep your inflammation levels low, and avoiding gaining visceral fat is part of this equation.
Exercise is a critical component for reducing heart disease risk because it both lowers inflammation in your body, and is one of the best weapons against visceral fat. For example, in one study volunteers who did not exercise had an 8.6 percent increase in visceral fat after eight months, while those who exercised the most LOST over 8 percent of their visceral fat during the same amount of time.
This occurs because muscle burns more calories, and it consumes calories around the clock, even when you're resting and sleeping. So, as you gain more muscle, your body naturally increases the amount of calories burned each day, which reduces fat stores.
As for lowering inflammation, physical exercise accomplishes this naturally by lowering levels of a C-reactive protein (CRP) that is linked to inflammation.
High levels of CRP in your body is associated with a higher than average risk of cardiovascular disease, and has even been suggested as a better indicator of possible heart attack than high cholesterol.
How Strength Training Reduces Osteoporosis
Weight-bearing exercise is one of the most effective remedies against osteoporosis.
The last thing you want to consider is to take a drug to improve your bone density, as without question, that is more likely to cause long-term harm than benefit.
Your bones are actually very porous and soft, and as you get older, your bones can easily become less dense and hence, more brittle. Especially if you are inactive.
Resistance training can combat this effect because as you put more tension on your muscles it puts more pressure on your bones, which then respond by continuously creating fresh, new bone.
In addition, as you build more muscle, and make the muscle that you already have stronger, you also put more constant pressure on your bones.
A good weight bearing exercise to incorporate into your routine (depending on your current level of fitness, of course) is a walking lunge, as it helps build bone density in your hips, even without any additional weights. You can see the video at the top of the page on how to do that.
The video is from our new exercise site which we hope to launch later this year.
Keep Yourself in Motion!
Optimal health is dependent on an active lifestyle; eating fresh, whole foods, avoiding as many processed foods as possible, and addressing the stress in your life.
Ignoring any of these basic tenets of health will eventually lead to a decline in health and any number of diseases. So start moving, and don't stop no matter what your age.
And do include strength training into your fitness routine. It is the number one way for you to remain strong, young, and independent well into old age.