Losses in strength, muscle tone, and function are often accepted as part of normal aging. As valuable as it is to accept the aging process, this loss is not all natural aging.
The average person loses at least 3-5% of muscle mass per decade after age 30. This rate is doubled during perimenopause and menopause. (See photo of a cross-section of muscle on right: the outer light grey is fat, darker grey is muscle and black is bone)
However, this loss is preventable! No more just accepting it as part of aging. It is simply an example that our body is a use it or lose it system!
Several other common factors cause unnecessary loss of muscle (called sarcopenia) and thus reduced metabolism, physical strength, balance, bone strength, and blood glucose management:
- Dieting – calorie reduction causes the body to use not only fat but also muscle for fuel and in the end lowering metabolism!
- Health issues – such as uncontrolled diabetes, use of steroid medications, nerve damage.
- Immobilization – i.e., when a limb is in a cast.
- Bed Rest – muscle loss starts after only 24 hours. (yikes!)
Here is what happens:
- Each muscle is made up of many muscle fibers. The harder the muscle has to work, the more fibers are used for that activity. Muscle fibers not being used go into hibernation.
- Nerve pathways that make movements easier are not being used, so they too get “dusty” and begin to fade.
- Bones become weaker because they do not get the stimulus from the muscles to create new bone cells. Bone cells that naturally die are not replaced with new ones.
- Muscle mass is a major factor in metabolism. When muscle cells go into hibernation, metabolism gradually decreases. Fat cells store excess energy not being used by sleeping muscle fibers and weight gradually accumulates.
- Strength, balance, and stamina all decrease because these hibernating muscle cells and nerve pathways can’t help out when we need them. As activities become harder, we tend to do less and the cycle of inactivity speeds up with more muscle loss, and so on, and so on.
However, the muscle cells themselves are not lost, they just go dormant. The equipment for rebuilding metabolism, strength, balance, and bone is still there and strength training activates it.
Often, myths and misconceptions about strength training keep people from gaining the health and well-being benefits.
What is strength training? It’s a type of exercise that challenges muscles enough to reactivate the muscle cells. There are many different approaches to strength training, many based upon sport or body building. Activate Well-being strength training is based on movement science with exercises that strengthen the muscles in a way that improves function and is specific to individual health goals.
But I do cardio, isn’t that strengthening my muscles? Cardiovascular/ aerobic exercise has not been show to prevent loss of muscle and metabolism because only a small portion of muscle cells are used during cardio.
I am really active in my daily life, isn’t that strength training? Even with an active lifestyle, muscle imbalances occur, so some important muscles miss out. A good strength training program can enhance an active lifestyle by improving function and helping to prevent injuries.
Isn’t it complicated? The great news is that strength training does not need to be complicated. Very little equipment is needed, so a program can be done at a gym, at work, or at home. A good program can be modified for different abilities, so almost everyone can activate muscles. By keeping it simple and having support as you learn, you can make it an enjoyable part of your life and reap the benefits.
But I have joint pain! Strength training can help build support for these joints. What is needed is a specific program designed to ‘teach” the body to stay in proper alignment when moving during the day. In the end, this helps with issues such as back, neck, and knee pain.
Won’t I gain weight? It takes a lot of work (and time) to gain muscle that will show up on the scale. Women especially have to work hard at this. At the same time you are gaining some muscle mass, you are boosting metabolism (which aids weight loss) so unless you are doing a program designed bodybuilding, the scale would not show the muscle gain.
Will I get big bulky muscles? Not unless your program and your genetics are designed for that. Again, this takes a lot of time and effort. Strength training for health and well-being requires much less time.
The great news is that we have much more control over how we age than previously believed. Don’t miss out on the unique health and well-being benefits of strength training because of myths or misconceptions. Adding this missing link in the right way can be key to activating health and well-being.
May You Be Well,
Janet Huehls, MA, RCEP, CHWC