We loose about 4 – 6 pounds of muscle mass each decade, starting from 30 years old and with a faster loss after 50 years. Mainly the fast twitch muscle fibres are getting lost. So by getting older we loose our ability to move quickly, we won’t be as fast as in our 20's.
Another big change in age is our connective tissues, which holds everything together in our body. They become more stiff as we get older. This makes the organs, blood vessels and airways more rigid. We are not as "elastic" as we were young.
So what's the main cause for this muscle loss?
Just the physiological changes of ageing?
To a certain degree physiological changes in our body play a role in loosing strength and mobility. But the main reason for these changes is inactivity!
Inactivity speeds up the ageing process where as physical activity slows it down.
Unfortunately the strength training offered for seniors is more like a gymnastic class without real challenges for the body and mind. Rolling a ball to each other is not very challenging.
Very common fitness recommendations for seniors are walking, do regularly exercises like swimming, biking (stationary bikes) and gymnastics. These are all good meant recommendation and very safe, but they are not really challenging for the body. To get stronger we need to challenge our body with higher resistance than it is used to. Moving our own body weight through space and time is just not enough to get stronger.
In higher age we don't need a condition like a marathon runner, we have to be able to move quickly to avoid obstacles and keep a good balance.
And old saying about muscles is true for any age:
Use it or lose it.
Start with strength training 2- 3 times a week.
Strength training builds bone and muscle mass and helps to preserve/improve strength and balance. PRT (Progressive Resistance Training, where you continuously try to increase the weights with each training) showed to be an effective method to increase strength for seniors.
Studies showed that even in higher age over 80 strength training is very beneficial for better strength, mobility and balance. To be mobile good functioning legs are important.
Strength training is also one of the best "anti ageing" remedies there is. When trained with an adequate workload (8 - 10 reps) it releases Testosterone and GH (Growth Hormones). These hormones are the youth fountain of our body. Often in older man testosterone and GH levels are decreased. Low levels of those hormones shows in fatigue, low energy, difficulty to concentrate, increased fat mass, change in cholesterol level and higher risk of heart diseases.
To increase these hormone levels it needs a strength training with high volume, moderate to high intensity, using short rest intervals and stressing large muscle groups.
Often older people will find all kinds of reasons why they can’t do weight training:
I have to much pain…., I’m too old……, I’ve no balance….., I’m too tired….., I wouldn’t be able to….., I’ve no coordination…., I can’t…
These are all self limiting beliefs and excuses. It's a viscous cycle which limits and isolates you more. You feel tired and weak, joint pain increases and you can hardly move anymore. Of course you will have less pain if you don't move, but this is only temporarily, as you will become weaker and weaker as more you don't move.
Many seniors fear to get hurt of having more pain when doing strength training. So even if they go to a gym and do some exercises, it's usually with almost no weights at all. So basically empty movements - better than nothing but could be much better.
But actually the opposite is true as several studies showed. Strength training decreases pain in osteoarthritis patient. Strength training is not painful but requires focus and precision to get results. Also the exercises should be selected according to your abilities and your goals.
People with health concerns—such as arthritis or heart disease—often benefit the most from an exercise program that includes lifting weights a few times each week. Strength training can also reduce the signs and symptoms of many diseases and chronic conditions in the following ways:
- Arthritis—Reduces pain and stiffness, and increases strength and flexibility.
- Diabetes—Improves glucose control and enhance insulin sensitivity
- Osteoporosis—Builds bone density and reduces risk of fractures.
- Heart disease—engages cardiovascular system
- Obesity—Increases metabolism, more muscle leads to higher daily energy consumption of your body, which helps burn more calories and helps with long-term weight control.
- Back pain—Strengthens back and abdominal muscles to reduce stress on the spine.
- Joint pain – strengthens the joint and joint stabilizing muscles
- reduces depression and boost self-confidence and self- esteem
- improves well-being.
The currency for strength is sweat!
- Hormonal responses and adaptations to resistance exercise and training.
- To Grow to Be a Man – Growth Hormone vs. Testosterone
- Effects of progressive resistance training on growth hormone and testosterone levels in young and elderly subjects..
- Strength training during menopause
- Aging changes in organs - tissue - cells