Within the past months, three friends have been surprised, and not in a good way. One slipped on the stairs and shattered her ankle, one got the flu that knocked him out for about 3 weeks, and a third had dizzy spells that resulted in the need for a pacemaker. All were in their mid-60s, were in good health, and had been physically active prior to the injury or illness.
Best Defense Against Illness or Injury
They all said the same thing: they recognized the importance of being in good shape prior to the accident or illness. All agreed that it aided in their recovery. In a recent post, we met Ed who said, “get in shape to stay in shape.” We could expand that and say, “being in shape is the best defense when injury or illness happens.” The friend with the broken ankle had it surgically repaired and could not put weight on the ankle for several weeks. A regular at strength training, she recognized that her strong upper body helped her through recovery. She was able to push herself out of a chair and use crutches with ease and she couldn’t image how difficult it would have been to get around without strong muscles.
“Skeletal Muscle Matters”
At a recent nutrition workshop on nutrition across the lifespan, Dr. Roger Fielding, Director of the Nutrition, Exercise Physiology, and Sarcopenia Lab at Tufts University, says, “skeletal muscle matters!” It makes up 45-50% of our total body mass and our muscles move us; if we lose our muscle mass, we lose our mobility and losing mobility is associated with increased mortality. Translation: people with strong muscles live longer (more on this and tips to get and stay strong can be found in Food & Fitness After 50).
Aging = Loss of Muscle, unless we do something about it
One thing that is certain about aging is that it is accompanied by a progressive loss of muscle mass unless we do something about it. No supplement or superfood will preserve your muscle mass; the only way to do it is through strength building activities. We start to lose muscle around age 40 and continue to lose about 2 to 4% each year. The decline is even more rapid during illness and injury. So, preserving muscle mass with regular, progressive strength training and eating enough protein, can be like putting money in the bank for a rainy day. When you have the unavoidable acute illness (such as the flu), a chronic illness (like a pacemaker), or an injury (a broken ankle), you’ve got reserves to see you through the down time when brief bouts of muscle disuse can accelerate muscle loss.
My friends were in good shape, but not everyone is
It is clear that physical activity that preserves muscle mass is critical to maintaining good function as we age, but older adults may spend up to 85% of their waking hours being sedentary! The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot to get strong muscles. Muscles are “plastic,” meaning they can quickly adapt to the stimulus of weight training to regain mass, strength, and function. Just two bouts each week of progressive, resistance exercise training can really turn back time when it comes to muscle strength. It doesn’t take an expensive gym membership or fancy machines. Start with simple exercises like squats or lunges or stair climbing; add exercise bands or tubing for upper body strength. Or, hire a certified personal trainer to show you the proper form and how to build up strength to challenge your muscles. Whatever you choose, just do it! You will be stronger, fitter, and better able to withstand the inevitable injury or illness that comes as we age.
Which will you choose?
Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “To be seventy years old is like climbing the Alps. You reach a snow-covered summit and see behind you the deep valley stretching miles and miles away, and before you other summits higher and whiter, which you may have the strength to climb, or may not. Then you sit down and meditate and wonder which it will be.”
I hope you choose to stay strong to keep climbing!