Maintenance of muscle mass. That is the whole game. If you are properly maintaining your muscular mass, you are, most likely, very healthy and happy. Why? Because maintaining your muscular mass implies that you are doing a lot of things RIGHT.
Without the intervention of effective exercise coupled with proper nutrition, we can “see” the expected outcome by analyzing the graph below which illustrates the age-related loss of (LBM) Lean Body Mass (include muscle!) and the simultaneous increase of (FAT) fat mass.
MANY people would agree that they were in their “best shape of their lives” sometime in their high school years. There is a biological reason for this.
The “average” male will naturally reach a “best shape of his life” (maximum amount of muscle versus minimal amount of fat) at roughly the age of 18. On the graph, this is the maximum distance between the solid lines.
Females, who, according to common knowledge, “mature” earlier, reach a physical peak (minimal body fat, maximum muscle mass) at approximately age 16. In the graph, notice where the maximum distance between the dotted lines occurs.
In both cases, male and female, the theme of being in one’s “best shape” is characterized by the individual carrying the maximum amount of muscle mass with a minimal level of body fat.
Let’s say that again, because it is critically important – Being in your “best shape” is characterized by you carrying the maximum amount of muscle mass with a minimal level of body fat.
Although it is certainly possible to regain and even surpass this teenage physical zenith, most never will because they fail to adopt effective exercise systems and proper nutrition programs. This is indeed a tragedy, because once we reach our twenties, the carnage begins- the loss of muscle mass and accumulation of body fat destroys one’s appearance, health, and sense of self.
In physically inactive people there is a loss of about [-0.5%] of lean muscle mass every year between age 25 and 60, and a corresponding decline in muscle strength. In real terms that can mean that a 25 year old man, weighing 200 lbs and a starting with a healthy body fat level of 13% can end up losing about 30 pounds of muscle by the time he is 60!
From age 60 on, the rate of lean muscle mass loss doubles, to about 1%. It doubles again at age 70; again at age 80, and then again at age 90.
If this lean muscle loss is a “natural” part of aging, what can we do to prevent the loss of muscle? The contemporary assumptions lead many people to the gyms where they begin an exercise program usually centered around cardiovascular work- riding a stationary bike, walking or running on a treadmill, or using an elliptical cross-trainer. Even if the individual possesses an ultimate ambition to engage in resistance training (lift free weights), the typical, pervasive attitude is still, “Well, I need to lose some weight first with cardio, and then I will get into the free weights.”
But, even in the short term, is performing exclusively cardiovascular work the best approach for exercising for fitness, health, and appearance?
To see which plan – aerobic activity alone or aerobic activity plus strength training – is better for overall skeletal and muscular health, scientists at East Tennessee State University recently tested 43 healthy individuals who were all 55 years of age or older:
Twenty-three of the subjects worked out three times per week for 30 minutes per session. Actual exercise consisted of walking vigorously on a treadmill, stair climbing or bicycling, with heart rates at 65-85 per cent of maximum during all of the workouts.
The other 20 exercisers performed aerobic activities (walking, stair climbing, bicycling) for only 15 minutes per day and spent the rest of their workout time strength training all of their major muscle groups using weight machines. Resistance was always set at 50-65 % of their 1 RM – one repetition maximum (a 1 RM is the greatest amount of weight which could be lifted successfully one time).
After four months, bone density (averaged over the whole body) and lean muscle mass increased significantly in the group which combined aerobic activity with weight lifting but didn’t improve for the athletes who only engaged in aerobic exercise. In addition, the density of the ‘femoral neck’ – a part of the femur which links the straight shaft of the femur with the actual hip-joint socket – advanced for strength-trained athletes but stayed constant in the aerobic group. This is particularly important for older individuals, since the femoral neck is a frequent site of fractures. In other words, individuals who engage in resistance training are less likely to “break a hip”.
Overall, a program of aerobic activity plus strength training was better than aerobic exercise alone in terms of improving the integrity of the skeletal and muscular systems. As the researchers put it, “We recommend that healthy people over the age of 55 years enroll in a combination of aerobic and weightlifting exercises”.
This author recommends that EVERYONE engage in some measure of consistent, effective resistance training.
Thank you for reading.
Nutritional Biochemistry and Metabolism with Clinical Applications, 2nd Edition, Maria C. Linder