Why You Need Muscles

Research into the complex causes of sarcopenia is still in its infancy.  According to Wayne Wescott, Ph.D, an expert in the field, beginning at age 30 we lose, on average, about six pounds of muscle per decade.  Between the ages of 30 and 80 our muscle mass can shrink a whopping 40-50 percent.  Not only does less muscle lead to weight gain, but the accompanying loss of muscle strength also can impact quality of life.

Sports medicine specialist Dr. Sarah Lehnert explains: “Just everyday things we take for granted—going up and down the stairs, getting out of a chair, lifting.  If you have sarcopenia, those become difficult.” As muscle weakness progresses, it eventually leads to decreased mobility and an increased likelihood of becoming disabled, says Tufts University researcher Dr. Roger Fielding.

Resistance is the cure

So what can you do to combat sarcopenia?  The cure comes from the space program, since anti-gravity produces sarcopenia –like effects in astronauts.  “It is now clear that resistance-type exercises have the capability of improving physical function in an acute  manner.” said Brain Clark, PhD., noted sarcopenia researcher.  Resistance training or weight lifting works by putting a load on a muscle, creating small tears, which repair themselves and result in the muscle tissue increasing in size and strength.

Resistance-training trials demonstrate that to build muscle you need not spend hours in the gym.  A moderate amount of resistance training done on a regular basis will rev up your engine.

Nor are you ever too old to start a strength building program.  A test group of wheelchair-bound 90-year-olds living in an assisted living facility showed remarkable improvement after performing 30 minutes of resistance training for 14 weeks.  On average, they added four pounds of lean muscle, while eliminating three pounds of fat weight.

A few participants were able to abandon their wheelchairs, another no longer needed her back brace, and one was even able to return home.

Here’s another surprise—you might even do better than your kids.

A Study reported in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that 64-year-olds who participated in 35-minute resistance training sessions three times per week for four months showed more gains than 27-year-olds who engaged in the same program.  The boomers increased their knee extension strength by 51 percent, while their younger counterparts saw only a 44 percent gain.

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