The benefits of weight training

Shortly after my 50th birthday, I met Irene Stillwell, the Executive Director of Arizona Senior Olympics (http://seniorgames.org.)  I shared the flyer she gave me with my personal trainer, an elite power lifter, who convinced me to give competition a try.  After the excitement of the first meet, and the obvious, positive changes to my middle-aged body, I was hooked, and have since moved on to competing in with the World Association of Benchers and Dead Lifters (http://wabdl.org), setting Arizona records for my age and weight class (a weight class, which, I’m proud to say, is than when I started competing!).

As noted in a post in the New Old Age blog (http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com), we older adults lose about 3 percent of their lean body mass, mostly muscle, each year. This incremental loss of strength, called sarcopenia, is a stealth danger, increasing the risk of hospitalization and death as the years go by. 

The loss of muscle is difficult to detect partly because caregivers and physicians tend to focus on total weight as a measure of an elderly person’s health. Even when weight loss is desirable, however, it can be accompanied by hidden muscle loss. Researchers note that one warning sign that muscle, not fat, is disappearing is the dreaded sagging of skin over areas of normal muscle, such as arms. ( Frankly, since I live in Arizona where sleeveless attire is unavoidable, those sagging arms were one of the first motivating forces to get involved in weight training!)    Based on my own experience, I agree with Dr. David Heber, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of California, Los Angeles, when he says that  “Resistance exercise like weight lifting and increased protein are the best tools to adjust to the loss of muscle with aging,” Exercise combined with adequate protein intake can lead to increases in muscle mass and performance, even in the very old.”

Adults of any age should consult with a doctor before undertaking a fitness routine.   If your doctor gives you the go ahead, I can tell you from my personal experience that you will look better, feel better and meet some wonderful people along the way.

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