This is a good article for people who have older parents that they are concerned about or for older people who may not know or understand the importance behind lifting weights.
Many older people, our parents and friends, walk a lot. And that's great! For cardiorespiratory health (heart, lungs, and maintaining a healthy weight), as well as many other benefits, it is a cost effective and quick method to stay in shape. However, as we get older (age 50+) we start to lose muscle mass at a rate 30% higher than young adults.
Muscles and bones need to have force put onto them or they grow weaker as we age. It's just a natural process. Unfortunately, we cannot keep all the muscle that we have had since our teens, twenties, and even thirties, but we can slow it down and prevent diseases like osteoporosis and arthritis through strength training, and very importantly, fall prevention.
As an example, The photo depicted here (C) is of a young person thigh muscle. The second photo is of an older person (D). Yikes!! The white stuff in between the muscle shown is actually fat.
Don't worry, it's not just all bad news!! Below, you will see a third photo. This photo represents an active older adult. As you can see, the fat infiltration and low muscle mass is preventable with healthy diet and exercise!
So, as you can see strength training is critically important. Why do so many older people use walking as their primary source of exercise? The same reason many people don't exercise at all. It's convenient, and it's cheap. Besides a good pair of sneaks, there is a low cost to start. Also, lack of awareness.
A recent study from Boston University said, "There is also ample evidence from other studies that higher step counts are associated with a host of favorable health outcomes. So, I would not want to dissuade people from following their step counts.
However, if your goal is to improve your fitness level, or to slow down the inescapable decline in fitness that occurs with aging, performing at least a moderate level of exertion [through intentional exercise] is over three times more efficient than just walking at a relatively low cadence".
That's right, THREE times more efficient in slowing down the decline in fitness that occurs naturally with aging.
Let's think about exercise like a protein. If I tell you that soy protein, chicken, and beef are complete protein sources, you would ask, 'well, what is an incomplete protein"? An incomplete protein is for example, beans eaten alone. They do not support the whole amino acid (building blocks of protein) profile needed for a healthy body. I would say, 'eat beans and rice together for a complete protein source".
The same can be said about walking. Yes, walking is better than nothing. But think of walking like 'beans'. Beans and rice go hand in hand, and so does walking + strength training.
So, what does all of this have to do with losing my independence you might ask? Or, my parents aging and only walking? I pose this question: Why did Grandma wind up in the hospital? Because she fell. And we all know what happens next. Grandma is slow to recover, she then has to have around the clock care, and so on and so forth. No, of course not all falls can be prevented, but the lasting damage can certainly be reduced. And when we fall, we hurt ourselves, and sadly, break things.
From the CDC:
"Every second of every day, an older adult (age 65+) suffers a fall in the U.S.—making falls the leading cause of injury and injury death in this age group. One out of four older adults will fall each year in the United States, making falls a public health concern, particularly among the aging population".
All in all, the information put out in this blog isn't meant to scare you. It is meant to (hopefully) elicit a healthy response for you to take action. To sign Mom up for some tai chi, or maybe do a weekly small group training with a local gym. Teach Mom and Dad, your older friends, and yourself, that strength training is critically important for our overall health, well being, and longevity.
And while you're at it, feel free to share this blog.
Alicia White, Head Coach & Founder of A. White Fitness, LLC