I had a 40-year-old friend recently ask me, “why do I still need to lift weights?” He’s more interested in stretching and running. Running and stretching are great, but adding in 2-3 days per week of strength training would be an important and beneficial addition, particularly at his age.
We are metabolically and hormonally designed to be anabolic (building our bodies) until about our mid 20’s. Muscles grow larger and stronger. But at some point in our 30’s, we start to lose muscle mass and function, and our bodies become more catabolic (breaking down). The cause is age-related sarcopenia (muscle loss), hormonal shifts, and weight gain.
Even if you continue to be active, you’ll still have some loss of muscle. The good news is that you can vastly slow and limit the decline if you use heavy, intense resistance training principles.
Inactive, sedentary lifestyles cause about a 5% loss of muscle mass each decade after age 30. Loss of muscle causes a decrease in strength, mobility, balance, and functional capacity (e.g. the capacity to get up and down stairs, do yardwork, get around on vacation trips).
Keeping a heavy resistance training program not only helps you maintain lean muscle mass, it also:
- increases neurogenesis (forming new brain and nerve cells)
- increases beneficial hormones that normally decline with age, such as growth hormone, testosterone, insulin-like growth factor, DHEA, while lowering the hormones of estrogen, insulin, and cortisol
- Increases the ability to turn protein into energy
- Creates a unique metabolic afterburn in the body where your metabolism stays elevated after the workout for 24-48 hours, burning more fat than sugar (carbs). Strength training and interval training create this afterburn much better than aerobic exercise
- Helps bone become stronger and denser by stressing it
- Acts as a storage mechanism for important proteins that help you recover from injury or illness
When we have muscle mass, it consumes a lot of calories just in order to maintain the muscle, even while we’re asleep. Fat needs zero calories in order to maintain itself. So, as we get older and we tend to lose muscle and gain fat, the aging body burns fewer calories. In addition, even as our metabolism slows down, most of us continue to take in as many calories or more as we did in our 20’s and 30’s. We have to remember that our appetites don’t naturally decline as we age.
It takes hard work, discipline, and a plan, but it’s never too late to build lean muscle mass. It’s important and totally worth the work. As far as anti-aging goes, it’s one of the most important things you can do.