When a 101-year-old person can make new muscle cells it would be good to know how that happens and what we can learn from it. It has long been assumed that aging is a one-way process of decline but what is emerging is that this is not necessarily the case.
The simple process, which allows a centenarian to make new muscle cells, is resistance training. Yes it surprised me too in that both new muscle could be laid down at that age and that people of 100 can do resistance training.
Research on residents in aged care facilities with an average age of 89 was done to see what impact resistance training would have on sarcopenia. This is the loss of muscle mass that happens as we age. It contributes to falls, loss of strength and osteoporosis. It was found that doing as little as three sets of six to eight repetitions of exercise on alternate days was enough to help develop new muscle and stop muscle loss. The weight required to be used was that which the person found “heavy” and would be only able to do a maximum of eight repetitions.
The term progressive resistance training applies where over time people may use slightly heavier weights so that there is an ongoing challenge to the muscles.
When we think of exercise, often all people consider is cardiovascular training like running or bike riding. Resistance training has been seen as the domain of bodybuilders. It has even been seen as potentially dangerous!
Yet in the studies, people with high blood pressure, diabetes and even a cardiac pacemaker were able to manage resistance training.
The benefits of resistance training have also been demonstrated now in children aged 10 to 15. In this age group the children doing some resistance exercises had lower rates of insulin resistance (pre-diabetes) and had better weight control than other children.
There are numerous health benefits from resistance training but lets focus on just one.
Falls can be one of the most debilitating events in life for older people. It can trigger a chain of events, which impacts on independence. There is much fanfare about using drugs to “treat” osteoporosis and hence prevent falls. The reality is that no pill stops a fall. Better balance, stronger muscles and stronger bones make falls less likely. The chances of breaking one are also less likely even in the event of a fall.
So what do we need for healthy bones and muscle maintenance?
1) Do some resistance training two or three times a week. As little as three sets of six to eight repetitions is enough but aim to do more as time goes by.
2) Get enough calcium. This means about 1200mg. per day from food or supplements. Beware that low acid in the stomach can reduce calcium absorption. A little apple cider or red wine vinegar helps absorption of calcium.
3) Get enough vitamin D. We need at least 1000 I.U. per day from diet supplement or a bit of sunshine. Interestingly calcium absorption is improved when the body has enough vitamin D.
Looking after the body is not hard. Whilst osteoporosis has been made something fearful and pills are presented as an antidote to falls-the reality is the three simple measures outlined above are the best way to care for your muscles and bones.
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