By John L. Boos, L.M.T., N.S.C.A., C.P.T.
At some time in our lives we will ask ourselves, Am I financially secure enough to retire? or Do I love this person enough to marry them? or Am I prepared enough to start a family? A majority of people will ask themselves at least one of these questions at some point in their lives. But very few people will ever give a thought to asking themselves if they are able to maintain their independence or a high-quality physical and mental function as they age. Too many people seem to feel that if they acquire a reasonable health insurance plan, take their supplements, and do walking or some regular physical activity that they are ready for the mid- to senior adult journey. The truth is that most people don’t have enough of the facts to understand what is happening during the aging process.
There are two types of independence for survival, financial independence and physical independence. It is much easier to determine if you can remain financially buoyant after retirement simply by adding your total income for the month and subtracting your necessary expenses (with a few dollars left over to keep your sanity). That is because they are black and white figures of reality staring back in your face. But what about the capacity of our physical independence? Let me cut straight to the medical and aging facts that must be realized in order to most effectively address the issue. As the body starts to get older, it also begins to age. The older we get, the faster the body ages. We lose our energy and endurance. Our range of motion diminishes. What was once easy to do is now more difficult. Even the groceries are not as easy to handle. You develop back and neck pains. Your knees, hips and shoulders wake up an hour after you have brushed your teeth. You ask yourself, Is this all I have to look forward to? You are feeling like the present economy slow, sluggish and depressed.
So what is going on here? The answer is somewhat complex, but basically you are undergoing what is known in the medical field as sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss. It is not new to medical science that the body loses muscle tone, muscle mass and muscle capacity after the age of 30. More recently it has been found that the type of muscle fibers that contribute to sarcopenia are the ones that produce and maintain muscle strength and power. Why do we have such a need for these strength and power fibers? To stay alive and survive when under a fight or flight situation. Our conscious brain is living the luxury of the 21st century, but our reptile brain (brain stem or lower brain) is programmed to living in 5,000 B.C. and reacts only under a stimulus. It is an old part of our brain but a very wise part, so don’t even try to outsmart it or you will reduce your chances of being strong enough for getting older.
So what are the benefits of focusing on getting stronger? What is the most effective and safest way? How do you measure it and what effect will it have on the rest of your bodily functions and life? The obvious approach to the aging side of getting older should be exercise. Most people feel they know that. That is why they take up walking or other physical activities, as well as try to eat healthier. ItÕs not that this approach is not smartÉit is. It’s just that this approach is not going to sufficiently address the sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss) for staying stronger. Why do I say that? Because restoring or building new muscle and strength requires an approach specific to the objective. It requires strength training! It requires effort and safe progression. It requires an intelligent and cautious execution that can be measured and monitored to help you stay on track and stay motivated. Safety and a smart cautious progression is necessary due to the fact that people over the age of 40 or 50 often have physical limitations and other issues. It can be poor exercise choices from the past or just accidents that happened. In many cases, they aren’t even aware of these limitations.
There are many fads and programs that look fun and challenging, but they should not be used to replace the core need to developing a stronger, more powerful body. Muscular conditioning and muscular strengthening are not the same, even though ideally they do go well together. One leans towards performance and the other towards building up the age-related strength and muscle mass loss we encounter during sarcopenia. The most effective approach is with free weights and equipment that simulates real life functions. This approach will keep you in touch with the reality of life’s everyday activities, and even with some that can be more challenging at times. One powerful side effect of weight training is its positive impact on almost all of the major functions that make up human physiology; the immune system, the nervous system, the digestive system, the hormone and skeletal systems, etc.
Please don’t indiscriminately go off to the gym and pick up the dumbbells, barbells, or use the weight machines without knowing the proper protocols, techniques and methods necessary to acquire a safe productive result. Don’t pretend you know more than a qualified, experienced, age-tested professional. Keep in mind that this is a science that can produce a most rewarding result for your future. Your strength is your independence and a key to your health.
Don’t let the aging process reflect your age. Don’t allow prescription drugs to put a band-aid on what you can avoid on your own. Get reliable experienced help and you will live long and prosper.