By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness
February 17, 2020
There was a Disney movie I once saw that really struck me…
It was called Wall-E and it showed humans in the future riding around on mechanical wheelchairs – too unhealthy, overweight, and weak to move around on their own two legs.
Well, you’ve heard the old saying – “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” That really holds true even today.
Many of you may be surprised to learn that your body actually started losing muscle mass back in your 30s. The process started slowly, so you probably didn’t notice anything. However, you may have lost one to two percent of your muscle mass every year since then.
This doesn’t sound like much. But when you add it up, year after year, it’s a pretty significant loss. Plus, this muscle wasting – called sarcopenia – tends to accelerate as you age.
So, when you think of muscle-wasting and declining physical ability, I’ll bet you picture someone who is well into their 70s or 80s. Chances of you imagining this scenario in someone as young as 50 probably doesn’t even cross your mind.
Well, that may be a big mistake.
Just recently a new study came out, and I think the outcome may have even surprised the researchers in charge of it.
The research team put a group of people who varied in age from 30 to over 100 through a few exercise routines. The folks had to rise from a chair repeatedly for 30 seconds, stand on one leg for a minute and walk for six minutes.
These are all pretty simple tasks. But they were designed to offer insights on how strength, endurance and balance varied between the groups.
I don’t think anyone expected the results.
It turned out that the ability stand on one leg and rise from a chair started to decline in people who were only in their 50s.
Yes, you read that right. Physical decline starts in middle-age; at the big five-oh. And needless to say, this decline continued as people entered their 60s and 70s.
How to Avoid Losing Muscle as you Age
Low levels of certain hormones, impaired protein synthesis, vitamin D deficiency and poor diet all play a role in the progression of muscle loss. However, a lack of physical fitness due to inactivity is, by far, the largest contributor.
Just like the characters from the movie Wall-E, you need to use your muscles in order to keep your muscles.
Our bodies were designed for movement. We walk, twist, bend, lift, climb, stand, push, jump and perform all sorts of physical tasks in our daily lives. This means exercising your whole body, not just parts of it.
For example, some folks do a lot of walking and running, but seldom perform a whole body workout. Others focus on a specific body part, like their waistline, and tend to forget about the rest of it.
This approach to exercise does little to help you maintain your physical abilities as you age.
However, taking part in a full-body strength training program is proven to help you build and maintain strength, power and endurance that can serve you well in your later years.
This type of exercise uses resistance to engage your muscles. Resistance bands and weights are popular forms of resistance. But you can even use your own body weight.
For instance, squats, push-ups and lunge exercises all incorporate the weight of your body. These are also some of the exercises I incorporate into my 15-minute high intensity interval training programs.
Now, the thing about these programs is that they can be modified to match your level of fitness. Not everyone can do a lunge or a squat… or even a push-up.
So, today let’s take a look at how you can start using this program if you’re having difficulty with some of the higher level exercises.
Easy Exercises to Beat Middle-Age Muscle Loss: As with any exercise, it’s ok to begin with one of anything and build from there.
Lower Body – Chair Squats: Stand in front of a sturdy chair with your arms straight out in front of you and your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees and slowly lower your rear-end toward the seat of the chair while you count to five. Keep your knees above your ankles and your back straight as you lower yourself.
Once seated, slowly rise out of the seat to a count of three. Repeat ten times, rest for a minute or two, then perform the exercise 10 more times.
Upper Body – Wall Push-Ups: Stand slightly more than arm’s length from a wall. Lean forward and place your hands against the wall at about shoulder height and shoulder width. Then, bend your elbows and lower your body toward the wall while you count to five. Next, push yourself backward to a count of three. Do two sets of 10 with a minute or two break between the sets.
Whole Body – Seated Crunches: Seat yourself in a chair with your back straight and your feet flat on the ground. Place your hands behind the back of your head with your elbows pointing outward from your ears.
Twist your body at the waist, bringing your right knee up to touch the left elbow. Return to starting position, then repeat the exercise with your opposite knee and elbow. Be sure to keep your abdominal muscles tight, and return to a fully upright position with each repetition.
Continue alternating sides for a total count of 16 to 20. Take a break for a minute or two, then perform the set again.
These are just a few exercises that can help you start building strength to help maintain muscle power and prevent physical decline as you age.
As you progress, you can add more variety to your routine and move on to more strenuous versions of these same exercises.
Remember: movement is life and life is movement.
Physical Declines Begin Earlier Than Expected Among U.S. Adults. Press Release. Duke Medicine. Jul 2016.
Walston JD. Sarcopenia in older adults. Curr Opin Rheumatol. 2012 Nov; 24(6): 623–627.
Sayer AA, et al. New horizons in the pathogenesis, diagnosis and management of sarcopenia. Age Ageing. 2013 Mar;42(2):145-50.