It’s Never too Late to Strengthen Those Muscles
By Neil Moran

     The generation before us may have been rightfully dubbed the “Greatest Generation,” as described by Tom Brokaw in his bestseller. However, they may have had some misconceptions about exercise as you age.
     One misconception is that you don’t lift weights after age 50. Besides, why would you?
     Here’s one good reason: to reduce muscle loss. According to David Heber, director of UCLA’s Center for Human Nutrition, an average male over age 60 who weights 180 pounds, can lose as much as 10 pounds of muscle mass over a 10-year period. This muscle loss can and does lead to osteoporosis and problems associated with it, such as limited mobility and the susceptibility to trips and falls.
     For those of us over 50, the battle against muscle loss can be overcome, according to a recent study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. This is good news for anyone wanting to continue activities into old age —things like tennis, gardening and biking. Pumping iron in a weight lifting competition may not even be out of the picture.
     “You have to do what we call resistance exercise,” which can take different forms, according to Heber, including lifting weights and working with stretchy bands. The key, says Heber is to stretch those muscles.
     According to the authors of the study, when you stretch a muscle to the point of straining (without ripping or tearing ligaments), like what happens when you’re lifting weights or using weight lifting machines, it triggers a muscle-building response. The muscles need to adapt to the damage and build more muscle for the next time you hit the weights. Your body can really be on your side.
     With effective weight training you may not get the six-pack abs like those college kids, but you’ll be on your way to enjoying physical activity more and hopefully avoid slips and falls, one of the common reasons seniors end up in the hospital ER.
     If you decide to begin a weight lifting program, consult a physician and proceed “very slowly,” says Jonathan Perez, a fitness instructor, and author of many articles on fitness. When you get the green light from your doctor to start exercising with weights, you can either work with a professional trainer or start off gradually with dumbbells and/or weight-lifting machines.
     Dumbbells, balls and bands. You don’t have to join a fitness center to start a weight lifting program, although working with a fitness trainer may be a good idea, especially if you haven’t exercised in a while or have a preexisting condition, such as arthritis or high blood pressure.
A simple set of dumbbells will get your weight-lifting program off and running without having to leave home. Keep handy a complete set of at least three dumbbells of different weights so you can use them for arm curls, squats and an overhead press. Perez suggests you start off with one-pound dumbbells with no more than 10 repetitions with each arm. As you start to plateau in your workout, it is better to add weight, rather than repetitions, according to Perez.
     The fitness balls are also a good choice for starting a fitness program of this nature and can be used for a number of different exercises to build strength and reduce muscle loss. Stretchy bands are inexpensive and will provide the resistance exercise referred to earlier.
     Going to the Gym. I have a fitness regimen I do at home to keep my back strong and I can tell you that the fitness machines in a gym or fitness center make doing these exercises easier and probably a little more efficient. Start off with the lowest setting on the machines first and work up from there. A good gym should have the latest in weight-lifting machines and equipment that will help in your resistance training.
     A typical gym will have a combination of free weights, exercise balls, stretchy bands, treadmills, exercise bikes and machines to exercise and strengthen specific areas of the body. Perez says it is best to concentrate on strengthening all of the muscle groups: hamstring and calves (quadriceps), arms (triceps and biceps), shoulders, back and abdominal muscles.
     Hire a Fitness Trainer? For some folks, hiring a fitness trainer helps them get and stay motivated. It is also a good idea to hire one, at least initially, so they can help set up a weight training program for you that is compatible with your current health and physical condition. Whatever you decide to do for exercise — stay at home, go to the gym or both — try to stick with a program that will strengthen your muscles so you can continue to enjoy the things you love to do.

Neil is a freelance copywriter and owner of Hayake Business Communications and can be reached at [email protected]

Please support OutLook by the Bay with a subscription.

OutLook by the Bay magazine and this website are made possible through the support of our advertisers and subscribers. We guarantee you’ll learn something new each issue. Please subscribe today.