How to Get Better With Age

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Health Alert 98

Today, I want you to take the most important step for a virile and youthful life. It will keep your body going strong for years to come.

You need to stop your muscles from deteriorating. Your muscle mass declines with age. We are learning that this loss of youthful muscle is responsible for many of the other negative changes we see with aging.

Healthy muscle:

• Reduces risk of bone fractures by supporting bones

• Improves sexual health by stimulating sexual hormone production

• Makes you appear younger by stimulating human growth hormone

• Keeps you trim by boosting your metabolic rate

• Gives you more energy by storing more glycogen

• Decreases risk of disease by strengthening your immune system

The best news is that you don’t have to accept this loss of muscle with all its consequences. It’s not only preventable but also completely reversible. I’ll tell you why building muscle is so important, and I’ll give you some simple ways to do it.

* Demise with Time *

You begin losing muscle around the age of 30. Every decade after that you will lose as much as 3 pounds of muscle mass! Many people blame their weakness, fat gain, and sluggishness on “just getting older”. But this is mostly due to the decrease in muscle and its effects on the body.

This muscle loss with age has its own medical term: sarcopenia. There is growing evidence linking sarcopenia with:

• Functional disability

• Glucose intolerance

• Decreased physical activity

• Oxidative stress

• Abnormalities in hormone production 1

Most importantly sarcopenia causes weakness. This leads to falls that so many elders experience. Sarcopenia has as much to do with fractures as brittle bones do.

* Age Is Only A Number *

Your age doesn’t have to dictate your health. We have proven that even very elder nursing home residents can restore their youthful muscle mass. You can build back 100% of your muscle with the right techniques.

Exercise is, of course, key to preserving muscle. But probably not in the way you are thinking. When I measure muscle mass in my clinic and prescribe building X pounds of muscle back, nearly everyone thinks of gym exercises for the arms, chest and shoulders. Yes, that can build some muscle, but it can’t address the consequences of age associated sarcopenia. Here’s why:

Only 15% of your body’s muscle mass is attached to your upper extremities. You can increase their size by 200% and yet I will barely be able to measure a difference in your body’s total muscle mass. To affect this number, you must go where the big muscles are.

The biggest muscles in the body are the quadriceps on the front of your thighs. The second largest are the gluteus muscles in your buttocks, and third are the hamstrings on the back of your thighs. Your most important anti-aging exercises must flex and extend the hip joint.

Focus on working your large muscle groups first; i.e., your legs and back. You can do any exercise that provides resistance. This can vary from weight training to bicycling to stair-stepping.

Strength train a couple times a week. Start easy. As your conditioning improves, work on gradually increasing the intensity. Remember to use slow and smooth movements to prevent injury. Do not do long-term cardiovascular exercises when you are trying to build muscle. This can actually strip you of muscle.

A recent study looked at the effect of exercise on sarcopenia. Twenty-one frail, elderly subjects took part in a resistance training program for 11 weeks. After the program, their muscle fiber in the area increased by up to 60%. And the men showed an overall improvement in balance, strength, and physical ability, making them less likely to fall. 2

Diet: The change here is simple. Eat more protein. Muscles are built with protein. You can’t build muscle if you don’t give it the nourishment it needs. The best sources of muscle-building protein are: lean red meat, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, soy and nuts.

Supplements can also help your body to build muscle. One of the best supplements to increase muscle mass and strength is creatine. Creatine increases the muscle built during resistance training and is well researched and quite safe.

One recent study analyzed 28 healthy participants over the age of 65. Half of the participants took creatine, while the other half took a placebo. All of the subjects followed the same weight training program for 4 weeks. The participants taking creatine had a larger increase in muscle mass than those taking the placebo. 3 I recommend taking 5 mg of creatine daily until you build the muscle you need.

As always, you should get medical clearance from your doctor before starting this or any other exercise program.

Al Sears, MD

1 Kamel H. Sarcopenia and aging. Nutr Rev 2003 May; 61(5 Pt 1): 157-167

2 LaStayo P., et al. The positive effects of negative work: increased muscle strength and decreased fall risk in a frail elderly population. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 2003 May; 58(5): M419-424

3 Brose A., et al. Creatine supplementatopn enhances isometric strength and body composition improvements following strength exercise training in older adults. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 2003 Jan; 58(1): 11-19

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