Bodybuilding Is The Fountain Of Youth
Getting old sucks. I know people in every decade and the older they get the more they complain about getting old. My Gran is aged 91 and can no longer walk without help. She still lives on her own which has to be admired, however, it means all day sitting in a chair until a visitor comes and they can help her move.
As we get older many things start to change and mainly deteriorate in the body. From the age of 30-50 we start to lose muscle mass (also called sarcopenia) at a rate of 0.5-1% per year (1,17). This occurs mostly in type 2 muscle fibers (the fibers mostly responsible for strength and power)(2). There is a loss in strength and power not necessarily linked to muscle size, which has been termed Dynapenia, and is related to a deterioration of function and structure of the nervous system (25). As of now, 8-10% of males above 65 years old in the United States cannot lift 10lbs (24). What weighs 10lbs or more? Some examples are, an average weight 3 month old baby, a laundry basket filled with clothes, a small dog and a large garbage bag filled. I could go on but you get the picture. This loss in strength also leads to a loss in the ability to carry out many other activities of daily life, with 23 out of every 100 woman over 65 in the US being unable to walk 2-3 blocks without resting (24). A lessened ability to carry out daily activities has been linked to an increased mortality rate (3), and this costs the US health system $18 billion per year (12). With this loss of muscle comes a lower metabolism. And, of course, with a lower metabolism, for most, comes fat gain. Add on to this the lessened ability to carry out activities that allow you to burn more calories and you can see the downward spiral.
When we age our antioxidant defence systems also start to weaken leaving us more prone to illness. Our bone mass also starts to decline as we age (4). This leaves us open to more fractures and breakages. With a weakened immune system and a slower healing process this is a sad combination.
"while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must." Thucydides
Of course, it is not just our bodies that suffer the affects of time but our minds as well. Cognitive decline is universal in the elderly and increases with every year that passes (13). In fact, worldwide, one new case of dementia is detected every 7 seconds (14).
Many would say this is all just a part of getting on, "the old grow weak and the young grow stronger", as The Doors sang.
However, this does not have to be the case. What if I told you there was something that could stop the muscle loss that comes with aging, that can keep you strong, can lower your blood pressure, keep you lean, keep your bones strong and restore cognitive function? Well there is. And it is resistance training. Yes, finally the bro’s have a good reason to look so smug, because bodybuilding is the fountain of youth. And I wish my Gran had taken it up years ago.
Earnestine Shepard, Gran, 74 years old in this pic!
Studies have shown that resistance training can halt and reverse muscle loss as we age (5,6). Along with this increase in muscle the elderly can also increase strength (26) and power (27) and, with this, an improved balance and ability to carry out tasks of daily life (7). As mentioned before the ability to carry out every day tasks has been linked to lower mortality rates. In fact a study conducted on Masters Athletes showed no decline in muscle mass or strength from age 40 up to 80 years old (18). Another study showed that men aged 85 years that had been strength training for a number of years had similar strength levels of untrained 65-year-old men. Knocking 20 years off your age is not bad going.
Resistance training has also been shown to improve resting metabolic rate in older adults (8). Your resting metabolic rate is responsible for up to 70% of the calories you burn every day, so maintaining or improving this can make a big difference to weight gain as you get older.
Weight training halts and actually reverses the decrease in bone density as we age (9). This reduces risks of fractures and the severity of any falls or accidents. Resistance training also improves antioxidant status in adults (10) and lowers blood pressure in the elderly (11).
Resistance training has also been shown to improve cognitive function in the elderly. Studies comparing resistance training to tone and balance workouts concluded that resistance training improved cognitive function, whereas, the tone and balance workouts did not (15,16). So if your smart, and you want to remain that way, get lifting!
If all the evidence already presented does not convince you that bodybuilding is the fountain of youth, take the following study. In 2007 Melov et al conducted research involving older men and woman. They found 596 genes associated with ageing in the elderly subjects. After 26 weeks of resistance training 179 of these genes were found to be reversing in age. Proof that weight training reverses ageing at the gene level (12).
And if you think that you are too old to start lifting weights, think again. Studies have shown that men and woman in their 60s and 70s gained as much muscle as men and woman in their 20s when beginning resistance training (19,20,21).
Jim Morris is 77 years old, nuff said!
Most of the decline in strength and muscle mass as we age comes from disuse and is not a necessary part of growing old. There is an ‘anabolic resistance’ that can come with aging. This is a reduced sensitivity of muscle to the effects of protein and resistance training (22). However, with proper nutrition and training strategies this to can be over come. A lower meal frequency in the elderly can help. This ensures a larger dose of protein at each meal which is needed to stimulate muscle protein synthesis as we get older (23). Changes to training depend on the individual and their previous training history. However, in general a lower intensity, higher volume program would be recommended.
Bodybuilding is not a quick fix. It takes dedication and consistency. But as you can see, it is a lifestyle worth living, all the way into retirement. I think these words from Dylan Thomas sum up the sentiments of this article;
‘Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’
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