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There is No Finish Line: Resistance Training for Life

by Maarten Van Nus

So, you’ve decided to get back into shape and be healthy.

Maybe you are newly separated and want to look better to attract attention and dates, maybe you’re tired of being self-conscious every time you uncover at the beach or undress in the privacy of your own home, maybe your doctor has told you to shed some weight or get physically fit for health reasons.

Whatever the reason, good for you!

Now that you’re ready to get going, you’re considering different fitness activities and wondering which is the most beneficial for you as a Baby Boomer.

Preconceptions

After generations of having various cultural, age-related adages repeated to us in the form of old-fashioned ideas, proverbs, wives’ tales, and other inaccurate notions handed down from generation to generation, certain beliefs about aging have become ingrained in our minds. From there, they became beliefs and now are self-fulfilling prophecies for most of us, even though our average lifespan is 25 years longer than it was only 50 years ago.[1]

We’ve come to believe that, at certain ages – called age- or biomarkers – we should expect certain things to happen to us mentally, physically, and emotionally.

So, just what are the incorrect age-markers we’ve developed?

  • We lose muscle mass (tissue) consistently after young adulthood and more so after 45.
  • We lose muscle strength starting at 30 years old.
  • Fat levels in our body increase as muscle levels fall.
  • As we age, our lung capacity and breathing drops considerably.
  • Overall, we will become weaker, more sedentary, less alert, fatter, and less healthy simply because of our chronological age.

Diets-01We Boomers grew up in the era when Weight Watchers, The Drinking Man’s Diet, Atkins Diet, Twist Boards, stationary bicycles, belt vibrator exercise machines, and lounge exercisers were created and became popular. Cardiovascular exercise was recognized as important to weight loss along with dieting and many believed the best way to get fit must involve strict dieting involving calorie-counting, eating specially prepared diet foods, and cardiovascular exercise. For those who were health conscious into the 1970s and 1980s, exercising & dieting to excess was a North American pastime in which Jazzercise (1970), Aerobics (1980), Jane Fonda home-exercise videos, and marathon running all haimages of failed exercise equipment from 1960sd their heyday.

Resistance training (weightlifting) at “gyms” was limited to bodybuilding and was done mostly by men. With personalities like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Zane, Franco Columbu, and Lou Ferrigno leading the way and looking better than Michelangelo’s David, it was the Golden Age of bodybuilding. However, health professionals did not see the merit of resistance training for the average person or those over the age of 25 or so.

Still today, many of us believe that muscle strength and mass are destined to decline as the traditional age-markers suggest and that to try to combat the decline is futile and exhausting. In the 70s, 80s, & 90s, dieting and cardiovascular exercise were encouraged to stay trim and keep your heart healthy while nutritious eating and resistance training to maintain or gain muscle mass and strength and stay or become trim, agile, and active were not encouraged.

During the Golden Age of bodybuilding, many thought of men that practiced it as he-men without the brains or coordination to do anything more popular and women who took it up were odd, manly, and unattractive because they were not “feminine” enough.

Medical professionals would tell you that strength – or resistance – training, including weightlifting, weight training, powerlifting, etc., were for the young and virile.

But those medical professionals were wrong, DEAD WRONG.

The Truth About Muscle Mass & Strength for Boomers

One of the biggest complaints expressed about aging – either directly or indirectly – is loss of muscle strength and size which, in turn, decreases bone density and increases the accumulation of fat within our bodies. Lean, healthy muscle helps our bones and joints remain strong and aligned. It also keeps our metabolism going strong to use up fat stores so that you stay or reach the ideal weight you wish to be.

As Jimmy Connors, one of the best tennis players in the 1970s said, “Use It or Lose It.” And, a study conducted by Dr. Miriam Nelson of Tufts University in 2003, proves Connors’ point. Dr. Miriam’s groundbreaking work showed that resistance training was valuable at any age and staved off such conditions as Type 2 definition of "Motor Unit"Diabetes and osteoporosis.

The study conducted resistance exercise programs starting with those 45 years old and higher; what they found was that introducing resistance training resulted in muscle that had shrank and weakened due to lack of use began to regain its strength and size, and – as a result of the increase in lean muscle within the body – levels of body fat started to decrease and motor unit function increased.

Excited about their findings, the researchers took it a bigger step and took a resistance training program into a nursing home, and introduced it to the frailest residents they could find.

Conventional wisdom, discussed at the beginning of this article, purports that these weak and frail people would have been hurt or injured by weightlifting, but the opposite was found to be true. The residents experienced a 300 % increase in muscle mass over just an 8-week period! [2]

To be fair, a 300 % increase on thoroughly wasted muscle does not mean the residents suddenly had massive muscles, but they did gain enough muscle mass, dexterity, and strength to get out of bed and move around unaided, which was impossible for them prior to undertaking the exercise regime. And, these were not 45-year-olds: The youngest resident was 87 years old and the eldest in the exercise group was 96 years of age.

In Breakfast Is It Really the Most Important Meal of the Day? and our book, Help: I’m Being Held Prisoner By My Couch!, we explain why muscle mass is critical to health and fitness as we age. We also explain how to increase your muscle mass and strength to maintain solid bone density as well as a healthy body fat ratio.

Say it with me now … Resistance training!

Why Resistance Training?

Physical Benefits

Weightlifting, strength training, and powerlifting all use the concept of creating resistance (or tension) in a particular muscle group that is isolated by a particular movement. Resistance training can be done with free weights, i.e. dumbbells and barbells, as well as resistance bands, kettle balls, ropes or your own body weight. It works on what is called the overload principal. This simply means you gradually increase the weight or resistance as it becomes easier, thus building and strengthening the muscle.

Resistance training is the best way, hands-down, to build lean and strong muscles, and the leaner and stronger the muscle becomes the more calories you burn 24/7. Think of it of creating a furnace within you that keeps using fuel all day and night.

So, to recap, the physical health benefits to resistance training at any age are:

  • Increased lean muscle throughout the body.
  • Improved bone density.
  • Reduced body fat.
  • Improved balance and mobility.
  • A longer, happier life.

Psychological Benefits

But, what of the psychological benefits?

Once you experience the benefits and positive changes in your body resulting from resistance training, you’ll have confidence about yourself that others will notice. You’ll stand taller and feel sexier because you are proud of your new body. All that, and the fact that resistance training is still the best, most natural anti-depressant available, can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, along with many other positive health benefits, makes resistance training an obvious choose for psychological as well as physical strength.

And, the great news is you can start at any time and at any age.

So, drop all those preconceptions society and history have beaten into your brain, and grab your water bottle and a towel and start resistance training today. Your mind and your body will love you for it.


[1]  2006.November. 14. Americans Living Longer Than Ever. Retrieved on April 28 from http://www.worldhealth.net/news/americans_living_longer_than_ever/.

[2]  1994.June.23. The New York Times. Study Finds That Weight Training Can Benefit the Very Old.  Retrieved on January 25, 2016 from
http://www.nytimes.com/1994/06/23/us/study-finds-that-weight-training-can-benefit-the-very-old.html

 

Maarten Van Nus
 

Maarten is a health & fitness specialist who has a particular interest in health for Baby Boomers. He has over 40 years of experience in the fitness industry and loves what he does.

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