The Elixir of Life

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Question: if you could do one thing that reduced the risk of sarcopenia, osteopenia, obesity, diabetes, heart disease stroke, metabolic syndrome, low back pain, arthritis, falls, cognitive decline, depression, and premature all-cause mortality–AND it was free–would you do it?  Of course you would.

For those of you who know my mantra, that “one thing” is obvious: resistance training.  Still, you may not know (1) how meaningfully it can affect weight, particularly as we age, and (2) how easy it is to get started.

Muscle matters: Adults who do NO resistance training lose between 3% and 8% of their muscle mass every decade after 50 years old. So a 60-year-old woman who weighs what she did at 20 may have an unchanged BMI (a measure based on age, weight, and height), BUT her body composition has shifted to less muscle and more fat.1

Looking to lose weight? Despite what you’ve heard, research shows that physical activity is more strongly associated with desired weight than diet. Still, many more people embrace reduced-calorie diet plans over regular exercise. While diets can help you lose weight in the short term, more than 90% of dieters will regain the weight within one year.2

Resistance, or strength training, promotes muscle gain and increases resting metabolism, which in turn promotes fat loss. A pound of muscle uses about 6 calories a day just to sustain itself, while a pound of fat burns only 2 calories daily. Resistance training is thus key to achieving and especially sustaining desired body composition.3

More good news: it’s easy to get started. Although enlisting a personal trainer to set you up is a grand idea, you can also get started on your own. Here are the basic components of an effective resistance routine:

  1. Purchase some basic at-home equipment. I recommend 5- and 10-lb dumbbells, a medium strength resistance band, and a stability ball. Check out Wal-mart and Target for these things, since they’ll be cheaper than a sports store. You can also use your own body for resistance training.
    Join my Push, Pull, Flex, Move! class (or another class) at the Lorton Workhouse Arts Center, which has something for everyone. You can join anytime, whether or not the session has started.
  2. Work each muscle group (upper body, core, lower body) at least 2 days a week. Here are some moves to get started.
  3. Do 2 sets of 10-15 repetitions of each exercise, OR do one set of as many as you can to muscle fatigue. Both produce results in a few weeks.

Finally, a note to women: you will not bulk up like a man. Why? Testosterone! Or rather the lack of it. And while all those aerobics are great for burning calories and increasing cardiovascular fitness, they do not generally increase muscle mass and resting metabolism.

Have a question about how to get started, what to buy, how to hold form on the moves? Please ask me!! I love to share what I know and spread the gospel about resistance training and muscle growth.

  1. Westcott, W. Strength training for those who need it most. ACSM’s Health and Fitness Journal 20(5): Sept./Oct. 2016.
  2. Brehm B, Keller B. Diet and exercise factors that influence weight and fat loss. IDEA Today 8: 33-46, 1990.
  3. Campbell WW et al. Increased energy requirements and changes in body composition with resistance training older adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 60(2):167-75, 1994.

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