Let’s clear the bad news first. Past studies show that after 40, you lose at least 8% of your muscle mass every decade. After 70, that loss becomes even more dramatic. Even grimmer, your muscle tissue that does stick around becomes filled with fat and further reduces muscle strength.
A few new studies, however, show that aging doesn’t automatically mean you lose muscle, but only if you maintain it.
A study in the journal The Physician and Sportsmedicine, for instance, looked at 40 middle-aged competitive runners, cyclists, and swimmers. These men and women trained at least four times a week and frequently competed. In other words, they weren’t the type to spend weekends eating Entenmann’s cheese Danish on the couch while watching Law and Order reruns.
Researchers found the older (70s and 80s) athletes retained almost the same thigh muscle mass as their younger counterparts and possessed nearly the strength of athletes two decades younger. Even better, they had little if any fatty buildup in their muscle tissue.
The study concluded that while researchers normally attribute physical decline to age, inactivity proves the real culprit.
Another recent study that looked at muscle tissue in older people similarly concluded older competitive runners possessed similar muscle strength as 25-year-old runners.
“[I]t looks as if how we age can be under our control,” says Dr. Vonda Wright, an orthopedic surgeon and founder of the Performance and Research Initiative for Masters Athletes at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “Through exercise, you can preserve muscle mass and strength and avoid the decline from vitality to frailty.”
It’s not just your muscles that benefit from exercise. A recent study in the journal Neurology, for example, concluded that older people who regularly engage in moderate to intense exercise have a 40% lower risk of having strokes, dementia, and mobility problems.
If I’ve lost you with these studies, here’s the take home. Dr. Todd LePine and other anti-aging experts say that no matter what your age, getting off your butt and engaging in challenging physical activity can prevent muscle loss, boost brainpower, and help you live longer.
Note these studies mention moderate to intense exercise. Walking 30 minutes a few times every week or watching The View on an elliptical machine at your gym aren’t going to give you those anti-aging benefits.
To sustain muscle and vitality as you get older, you need to combine burst-style cardio with weight resistance. Ladies, don’t let weights scare you. You’re not going to get Madonna’s biceps or become a bodybuilder without an almost slavish devotion to lifting, so put down the wimpy pink free weights for the heaviest weight you can lift in good form.
That time excuse isn’t going to work either. You can combine the Xiser with free weights, for instance, to get high-intensity burst training in just four minutes. A study in Exercise and Sport Science Reviews, for instance, showed that just 15 minutes of burst training over two weeks improved your fat-burning muscle metabolism.
My 4 x 4 workouts also combine weight resistance with high-intensity cardio in just 15 minutes. You can do both routines in your own home, so dump that expensive gym-membership excuse.
The best exercise isn’t going to provide anti-aging benefits if you don’t combine it with the right foods. Lean protein, leafy green vegetables, high-fiber starches, and good fats feed your muscles, boost cognition, and help burn fat.
You might lose your keys more often, but combining the right diet and exercise means you don’t have to lose your muscle tone or memory as you age.
Gibala MJ, et al. Metabolic adaptations to short-term high-intensity interval training: a little pain for a lot of gain? Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2008 Apr;36(2):58-63.
Power GA, et al. Motor unit number estimates in masters runners: use it or lose it? Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 Sep;42(9):1644-50.
Willy JZ, et al. Lower prevalence of silent brain infarcts in the physically active: the Northern Manhattan Study. Neurology. 2011 Jun 14;76(24):2112-8.
Wroblewski AP, et al. Chronic exercise preserves lean muscle mass in masters athletes. Phys Sportsmed. 2011 Oct;39(3):172-8.
© 2011 JJ Virgin & Associates, Inc. Celebrity Nutrition & Fitness Expert JJ Virgin helps clients lose weight fast by breaking free from food allergies. She is the bestselling author of Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy, a Huffington Post blogger, creator of the 4X4 Burst Training Workout & co-star of TLC’s Freaky Eaters. Visit her at http://www.jjvirgin.com to take the quiz & find out if Your “Healthy” Habits are Making You Tired, Bloated & Age Faster?