Prevention through Power…

Dear Reader,

You probably know someone who’s fallen and broken a hip – usually someone elderly. You may not know that over 25% of people with broken hips develop complications and die within a year.

No matter what your age or level of fitness, you can take a few simple steps – right away – to keep this from happening to you.

A new study tells a revealing story. Turns out, the neurons that talk to your muscles start to slow down as you get older, making it harder for your muscles to respond.

Researchers at the University of Delaware just completed a study that looked at how muscles respond when the cells that activate them, called neurons, send out signals for the muscles to move.

They found that in the elderly, not only do muscles respond more slowly, but neurons actually fire less frequently. At first glance this seems to confirm the conventional wisdom that slowing down physically is an inevitable consequence of aging but there’s more…

The researchers discovered that strength training significantly improves both neuron and muscle response. In other words, you can “turn back the clock” on this particular feature of aging to help keep your mobility in old age.

Strength training builds up the so-called “fast-twitch” muscles, the kind that gave our ancestors the sudden, explosive power they needed to capture prey or escape from danger.

These same muscles – and the neurons that activate them – are responsible not only for power, but for coordination, balance, and sudden response. Someone going up the stairs with a lot of this kind of muscle is simply less likely to fall. And here’s what the Delaware study proved: This is true no matter how old you are!

Here’s a strength training exercise you can do right now: They’re called “Hindu squats.” I learned them from Matt Furey. Hindu squats are great for building strength in your legs and hips. They boost your lung volume too… It’s one of the few calisthenics I do everyday.

Start by standing with your feet shoulder width apart. Extend your arms out in front of you, parallel to the ground with your hands open and palms facing down. Inhale briskly and pull your hands straight back. As you pull back, turn your wrists up and make a fist.

At the end of the inhalation, your elbows should be behind you with both hands in a fist, palm side up.

From this position, exhale; bend your knees and squat. Let your arms fall to your sides and touch ground with the tips of your fingers. Continue exhaling and let your arms swing up as you stand.

This brings you back to the starting position: Standing straight up with your arms extended in front of you, hands open and palms facing down.

Repeat at the pace of one repetition every few seconds. Once you are comfortable with the form, you can increase your speed to one squat per second.

Repeat until you feel winded. Rest, recover and do another set. Once you’re conditioned, you’ll be able to do one hundred repetitions in a set.

It’s important to keep in mind that strength training – not “aerobics” or other long-duration exercise – is what makes the difference. In fact, many kinds of “endurance” exercises, like jogging or running lost distances, produce wear and tear, making your body more vulnerable to injury.

With strength training, you’ll do a lot more for yourself than avoid injury. You’ll also boost your immune system, elevate your mood, increase your stamina (in and out of the bedroom), burn more fat, and even prevent chronic aches (like back pain).

One final note: If you still think you’re too old to reap these benefits, think again. Researchers at Tufts University’s Human Nutritional Research Center studied the effects of strength training on a group between the ages of 63 and 98. Most needed hearing aids or wheelchairs.

After just ten weeks, these “elders” saw an increase in muscle strength, stamina, and stability. Many were able to walk unaided by the end of the study.

The fact is falling down the stairs (or anywhere else) doesn’t have to be a part of aging. You have to decide that you’re not going to take it lying down.

To Your Good Health,

Al Sears, MD

1 Cristopher A. Knight and Gary Kamen, “Modulation of motor unit firing rates during a complex sinusoidal force task in young and older adults,” Journal of Applied Physiology, 102(2007): 122-129.

2 Klatz R., Hormones of Youth, American Academy of Anti-Aging, Chicago 1999 p. 47–48.