Tuesday, March 2, 2010

How to Prevent Sarcopenia and Stay Strong

Sarcopenia contributes to a poor quality of life as we age and increases the tendency to add body fat. Let’s think about this a bit and see how we can help our bodies stay strong. You may have a very busy job working at a computer, or maybe you retired and you enjoy reading. Let me tell you something: as you age, you are losing that valuable and functional lean mass. When you lose that lean mass, you are lowering your metabolic rate. We lose (without physical activity, that is) about 3% of our muscle mass per decade. This is what is known as sarcopenia.

I knew a woman who was 5 foot 6 and 117 pounds. You might think she would be a pretty lean woman. She wasn’t lean. She was a skinny fat woman. How could she be fat? Well, she was 40% body fat. All she did her entire life was diet. She went from one weight reduction plan to another.

Preservation of lean mass and the prevention of body fat gain is why not only aerobic exercise is important (walking, jogging, playing golf, etc.), but also strength training. If you are only focusing in aerobic exercise, you are not promoting lean mass gains. You may say: “I’m a woman; I don’t want to look like a big and bulky football player.” Let me tell you something woman, in the real world, it is hard to get big and bulky!! Also, as a woman, you don’t have enough testosterone to look like a man. So, let’s throw away the misinformation and embrace strength training.

Strength training not only prevents sarcopenia, but also increases the amount of calories we burn per day. Basal metabolic rate (basic functions of the body like breathe and digestion) is responsible in most of us for approximately 60% to 75% of the calories we need per day. And what determines your basal metabolic rate? It is your muscle mass. As you may expect, men have a higher basal metabolic rate than women. Men, who are under the influence of testosterone, have more lean mass than women do (in most cases!!).

Another problem may be that you don’t know how to do strength training. This might be a great social opportunity for you. Go to the gym, hire someone to teach you how to lift weights properly and get the maximum benefits. If you can develop the discipline to do this at home you can buy some light weights and workout at home. Pushups and pull-ups are also excellent at strengthening muscles. I highly recommend you going to a gym, though, it is much easier.

I have to clarify something. The loss of functional lean mass as we age is not a normal consequence of aging. Sarcopenia is not physiologically normal!! It is a consequence of us sitting at a desk being busy but doing nothing. Don’t confuse being busy with real physical activity. Stay strong!

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