We recently came across an article that made the claim that a simple procedure called the “sit to stand test” could accurately predict one’s longevity. The test involves sitting on the floor and then getting up without using hands, arms, or other assistance. Sounded straightforward, so naturally we tried it, and naturally, we couldn’t do it. Thankfully, a little further reading confirmed our suspicion that while this little assessment can reflect balance and strength issues(and some more serious issues like obesity), getting a failing grade(as many older people do) shouldn’t necessarily cause anyone to race off to their local physician But…
The article did get us thinking about the value of exercise as we grow older. As you might suspect, those muscular ripples we might have possessed as a younger adult tend to disappear at a pretty persistent rate as we get older. In its most severe form, the scientists call it “sarcopenia” and what it boils down is that by age 70 and beyond, many people have lost as much as half their muscle mass. And the loss of strength does translate to impaired balance and increased likelihood of falling. We learned that engaging in typical exercise activities like walking, cycling, tennis, and swimming is a safeguard against sarcopenia but doesn’t necessarily ensure against muscular weakness and balance problems.
So, can we do something about it! You bet.One of our favorite writers, Jane Brody of the NY Times, who recently turned 77 is an anti- sarcopenia crusader. She’s spoken to leading aging experts who tell her it’s never too late to restore much of the strength you’ve already lost. And she offers some pretty basic advice on how to get the job done.
First, she says, get a physical and make sure you’re cleared to start an exercise program. Next, take a few lessons from a physical therapist or certified trainer to make sure your technique is correct.
Then, pick your weight-training device…free weights, machines, bands or tubes, and start slowly. Jane underscores the “start slowly” part.
Begin with two repetitions, moving through the full range of motion, lifting and lowering slowly. Too easy, up the weight a bit; too hard, ease off. Make the adjustment and repeat the two reps.
When you can honestly say, it’s a bit hard, you’ve hit the sweet spot. Exercise with that weight and try to do eight to twelve repetitions. Feeling fatigued, good, that’s what you want. Continue with arms, shoulders, thighs, calves; we’re working through all the skeletal muscle groups. Over time, the weight level will seem easier and that’s your signal to gradually increase the number of repetitions and/or the amount of weight resistance. Maintain this program three times a week and you’ll begin to see the return of body strength, and improved balance and endurance.
Here’s another tip from Jane. Adding a little extra protein to your diet will also help in adding and maintaining healthy muscle mass as you age. Look at foods like milk, cheese, tuna, chicken peanuts, and soybeans to get a quick protein fix.
We’re great supporters of the aging in place movement and always encourage our clients to stay active, do lots of walking, biking, swimming and other sports you enjoy. But now, we’re also going to encourage them to start moderate weight training as well. Good health!
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