"The Osteoporosis of Muscles"
We often hear from our patients, "Aging is not for sissies!"
The literature has described Aging in many ways:
· Scientifically: the "disruption of homeostasis";
· Philosophically: "the correction of life";
· Humorously:"a sexually transmitted, terminal disease."
· At Spine West we call it "Seasoning."
Anyway you spin it; aging is inevitable, pervasive, and relentless.
Muscles, like bones and osteoporosis, weaken with age. In medicine we call it "Sarcopenia" (Greek for "decreased flesh"). After the age of about 30, we began to slowly lose the number and the type of muscle fibers. In fact, most world records are held by athletes under 30 years old and space travel is limited by loss of bone and muscles in a zero gravity environment. Some had even suggested that inactivity is the third leading cause of death.
Fast twitch (Type 2 or strength muscle fibers) tend to dissolve at a rate of 5-10% per decade. Slow twitch (Type 1 or endurance type muscle fibers) tend to survive longer but also melt away with time.
Research has shown that some muscle loss may be postponed or prevented with exercise, specifically resistive strength training (or RST). Resistive strength training can start at any age. In a study from Harvard, a group of 87-90-year-old nursing home residents were started on a weight lifting program 3 times per week. Resistive strength training using maximal tolerable weights, (not 1 pound weights or soup cans) with a maximum tolerance of about 10 repetitions was compared to normal daily activities by other nursing home residents who were not exercising. Compared to the control group, the weight lifting group had 24% decreased mortality rate, lived 1.6 years longer, and scored higher on cognitive tests! And this was in a population that never performed weightlifting before!
Of course, walking and lifting light weights is better than no exercise at all, but the body tends to respond to stress. When you think about it, strength is what you need for emergency situations, like when you lose your balance and are about to fall, getting out of a low chair, or climbing stairs. You don't lift a flowerpot or pile of books 100 times. Rather, you lift something heavy once and then carry it. Lifting a 1- 2 pound dumbbell 100 times may feel like good exercise but you would be better served to lift 10-20 pounds (or whatever your capacity) for 10 repetitions to build strength when you need it.
The key message: "Use it or lose it"
1. It is never too late to begin the weightlifting, even at 90 years old!
2. Resistive strength training (using heavy weights) is healthy and beneficial [if done correctly***].
****CAUTION: The heart and body may be overstressed with any new exercise program if done incorrectly. If you have questions, please ask us or your other doctors before beginning any new exercise program.***
Written by: Cliff Gronseth, MD