It doesn’t have to be a herculean effort to increase your strength
Does growing older cause loss of strength, energy and vigor? Many people believe that is the reality. Actually, that is Fake News. We have been encouraged to retire and sit. That sitting is the cause of loss of strength, energy and vigor.
The fragility experienced with walking, climbing, carry heavy items are generally due to muscle loss and the dreaded word sarcopenia. This can be halted and reversed.
What is sarcopenia
Let’s first understand what sarcopenia is. The origin of the word sarcopenia according to the English Oxford Living Dictionary, derives from the Greek words sarx, sark- ‘flesh’ + penia ‘poverty’. Essentially the body becomes “flesh poor.”
With aging there can be a loss of muscle mass and subsequent loss of strength. Do you notice that opening jars or lifting heavy items seems a bit harder? I noticed when we recently moved to a new home it was harder lifting those boxes. Special note – I stopped working out while we were moving because I thought I didn’t have enough time (there is always time – keep reading). It was much easier moving (which we do a lot) when I was in my 40s and 50s, but today is a new day.
Stairs often become the nemesis of aging and become more difficult to climb. Look at your legs, what do the muscles in your legs look like? Are the muscles visible or is there just skin and flab? Even walking a golf course becomes more tiring and we’ll often opt for the cart.
Do you ever notice an elderly person that you define as frail? What does frail look like? It may be stooped posture, slow to walk, difficulty getting up and down from a chair. There may be sagging skin where there once was muscle. This is what sarcopenia is all about. It is muscle wasting that ultimately saps our strength and sends us on that downward spiral. Look again at those legs and arms (sorry, I don’t mean to scare you).
What happens when we lose muscle
When we lose muscle mass we begin to lose strength and that is when falls and disability increase. This then puts us on a path of less engagement with life, which in turn weakens us more.
Part of the problem has to do with balance and stability, which we talked about in the last blog. The other component is muscle weakening and loss of strength. Sarcopenia may not be totally to blame for falls and disability, but it is a strong contributing factor. Without strong leg and arm muscles, it is difficult to have the strength to lift our legs over obstacles or up stars which could prevent a fall in the first place.
Having sarcopenia makes it more difficult to do routine activities of daily living (ADLs), like preparing food, bathing, cleaning, etc. Think about how it feels squatting down to clean or pick up something from the floor. Probably a bit more difficult now versus when you were younger. When your muscles weakened, you are less able to do things that you use to do, and when you stop doing things you use to do, you become less engaged with the world. It’s a cycle that only worsens unless we break the cycle.
Is It too late if you are feeling weak? Absolutely not.
All is not doom and gloom. Studies coming out of major universities demonstrate that we can maintain and build muscles in our later years. We can be strong AND have muscles! We often think and society promotes that we should be thin and lean. But thin and lean may not equate to strong and fit. We need to build our muscles. This doesn’t mean we have to look like a body builder, but good muscle strength will be our best friend on our aging journey and the sport of reaching 100 years old.
In an interview clip, Jack Lalanne at age 95 said “the only way you hurt your body is by inactivity.” He talks about his journey getting to 95.
The only way you hurt your body is by inactivity – Jack Lalanne
How do we build muscle and stay strong?
- First, you must start. Can you do just a little bit? Sure you can!
- Are you able to put your hands on the wall and push off? Or lift 2 cans?
- Can you associate pushing off the wall (aka strength training) or lifting/curling 2 cans with something you already do? Think going to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee or tea in the morning. Can you do something while you are waiting for the coffee or tea to brew?
It can be that simple and doesn’t require heavy weights
Why should we strength train
Strength training can help to reduce pain and stiffness associated with arthritis, It can build bone density and protect against fractures, it can also increase our metabolism can help burn fat.
Remember the one golden rule. We can’t out exercise a bad diet.
Strength training has been shown to have an effect on mental and emotional health – we can sleep better too!
Getting started and sticking with it. You really can hardwire exercise into your life with very little effort.
A few ideas
Are you someone who has to get everything organized BEFORE you can undertake and activity. Here are a few things you can do RIGHT NOW… Yes, get up and do something now.
Find an activity you can tag on a quick exercise.
Example: Coffee in the morning (grab 2 cans and do some arm circles)
Example: Brushing your teeth or getting washed. Stand on one leg and do some weight bearing exercise. Now stand on your toes and hold a few seconds. Maybe do a few squats.
Example: Sitting in your chair watching TV or reading the paper – lift off the chair just a little, sit back down and do it 2 or 3 times. If that is too much, lift one leg straight out, hold that leg and repeat with the other leg.
Example: Squeeze a tennis ball or other semi soft ball. Keep it visible and maybe squeeze during commercials.
Example: Do a few bicep curl(s) with a food can when you are in the kitchen
Example: Grab a gallon of milk from the frig or something a bit heavy with a handle and do a suitcase carry around the kitchen. Maybe add in a squat or two. Good for trip planning as well.
Example: Fall into to the wall and do a push up.You will get balance and strength at the same time! See my YouTube video
Every time you accomplish a small exercise, congratulate yourself and say “yeah me”. High five your cat or dog. Just yell it out. It’s not too hard.