The Secret to Aging Well and Keeping Vitality
The Secret to Aging Well and Keeping Vitality
If you were told there’s a way to maintain vitality, energy, function, bone density, muscle mass, and confidence while aging, would you want that? Well, the secret is out, and it works like magic! This "magic pill" is resistance training (i.e. exercising involving an external load such as weight training), and everyone is encouraged to join.
While aging is inevitable, changes in energy, strength, coordination, and general independence don’t need to be as dramatic as once thought! Resistance training can help you keep the energy to maintain healthy relationships, the strength to complete tasks, the coordination to participate in hobbies, and the independence to take care of yourself throughout the aging process.
Let’s dive a bit deeper into the “magic pill.”
It’s often assumed that accompanying aging includes loss of sexual vitality, energy, and a general zest for life. But that doesn’t have to be the case; researchers have shown that regular resistance training throughout the life-span can help support hormone levels, metabolism, and cognitive function all of which lead to astronomical differences in these areas. These effects support healthy testosterone and estrogen balance/function (sexual vitality), high metabolic rates (energy), and improved retention and processing abilities (cognitive function) which lead to better vitality and energy.
While the experience of aging is different for each person, loss of function can occur gradually or acutely. For some people, a time may come when ADLs (activities of daily living) become more challenging - for example, walking to the mailbox or going to the grocery store can take more physical effort and be more fatiguing than it once was; or, getting out of bed can be more of a chore, moving a little slower due to bodily aches or stiffness. For others, loss of function can happen acutely - I’m sure we’ve all heard the story of someone who’s in their 50s, 60s, 70s or even 80s who’s fallen due to loss of balance and they’ve sustained an injury which impacts their quality of life. It’s these types of scenarios involving loss of function that can take a toll on one mentally, emotionally and physically. However, having a regular resistance training program can aid in maintaining skeletal strength, muscle tonicity, motor control, and balance when applied appropriately.
Bone Density (Osteopenia/Osteoporosis):
Falling and the loss of function can become a serious concern for the aging population, especially when we’ve heard the statistics regarding falls that result in a broken hip can be permanently debilitating or even fatal. Maintaining motor control and balance are important in reducing falls; however, the critical issue is actually bone density. Poor bone density is what makes this incident more catastrophic. Common age-related loss of bone density (osteopenia) and eventually a state of fragile or brittle bones (osteoporosis) affects nearly HALF of all women and a large portion of men later in life. It’s not surprising that regular resistance training can be both preventative and a treatment for either stage of bone density decreases. While there are benefits to participating in weight training earlier in life, this can also maintain, and even increase bone density in both osteopenic and osteoporotic individuals.
Muscle Mass (Sarcopenia):
Another “age-related” ailment that is all too often ‘just accepted’ by people is the loss of muscle mass (i.e. sarcopenia). It is assumed that loss of muscle mass is age related, however researchers suggest otherwise. As shown below in the images, we can see a cross sectional view of a quadricep (i.e. thigh) muscle of a ~40 yr old tri-sport athlete, ~70-75 yr old sedentary individual, and a ~70 yr old tri-sport athlete. This is a compelling visual which supports a positive effect of resistance training versus being sedentary. The two tri-sport athletes virtually have zero change in both levels of muscle tissue (high) and adipose tissue (low), while the sedentary individual had the opposite characteristics. This is a great example of where resistance training can allow for the maintenance of muscle mass with aging.
~40 yr old tri-sport athlete ~70-75 yr old sedentary individual ~74 yr old tri-sport athlete
The final piece to aging well and maintaining vitality is confidence. And, with confidence there is a sense of empowerment as well as a correlation to positive mental health. Resistance training will help to increase and/or maintain vitality, function, healthy bones, and adequate levels of muscle mass which can ultimately lead you to living a longer life of independence.