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Saving Your Strength
Photo: Elena Milevska
Once you turn 40 you start losing muscle. And that means more than just having difficulty carrying your groceries, golf bag or grand children as you age.

According to Miriam Nelson of Tufts University in Boston, muscle loss slows down our metabolic rate, makes it harder for us to control our weight, weakens our bones and leaves us more susceptible to diabetes. It also makes us show our years. “What makes us look older more than anything else is losing muscle and gaining body fat,” Nelson says.

Researchers call the loss of muscle tissue as we age sarcopenia (pronounced SAR-co-PEEN-yuh). Unfortunately, sarcopenia has not reached the public’s awareness the way osteoporosis has. Timothy Doherty of the University of Western Ontario says people know they need to keep their bones strong. “But if I tell someone they have sarcopenia they’ll say, ‘Well, I’m not going to worry about it.’”

They should. Doherty says recent research shows that 80-90 percent of adults are going to end up with sarcopenia by the time they’re in their 60s or 70s if they don’t do the right kind of physical activity regularly.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that when it comes to shrinking muscles, you have a second chance. While prevention is always better than cure, experts agree that no one is too old to strengthen their muscles. Just two months of strength-building exercises can reverse two decades of a typical person’s muscle loss.

Muscle Strengthening

Muscles strengthen when they are challenged by having to lift or pull something. Here are some basic tips from Nutrition Action Newsletter for muscle strengthening with weights:

1. The weight should be light enough for you to handle comfortably but heavy enough that you can lift it only 8-12 times before you need to rest. The amount you lift should change over time as your muscles strengthen.

2. Timing is important. Each repetition should take 8 seconds: 3 to raise the weight, 1 for a pause and 4 to return to the starting position. Experts recommend 2-3 workout sessions a week, but caution against doing them on consecutive days.

3. Remember to stretch. Strength training without stretching can be detrimental to the range of motion of the joints.

4. Eat enough protein. Older adults who are exercising regularly may need up to 25 percent more protein than the RDA level to maintain their muscle mass.

For more information about sarcopenia or for help getting started on a strength-building program visit your local YMCA or health club or go to nutritionaction.org.

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By Brenda Forbes Dickerson. Copyright © 2011 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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