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Resistance Training: Reverse Muscle Loss

January 30, 2011 - Dalia Jakubauskas
I am no spring chicken anymore and as I approach the mid-century mark in my life, I notice my body not wanting to play by the same rules it did when it was 30. For instance, I get up off the ground a little slower and a little less steady than my much younger self, and I can’t just leap up onto the tailgate of my truck, or lift a paddleboard over my head like I used to. That’s because, after the age of 30, we start to lose as much as 3-5% of muscle mass per decade and face a similar decline in muscle strength. Scientists call this condition sarcopenia. The good news is, research shows exercise and, in particular, resistance training can have a huge impact in stopping and even reversing sarcopenia. In a 2003 study done by the International Longevity Center, men and women ages 60-96, who suffered from muscle loss but who did a moderate amount of strength training twice a week, had an increase in muscle strength ranging from 113% to 174% after just eight to twelve weeks. Just goes to show you, it’s never too late to start. The Centers For Disease Control And Prevention recommends a mere two or three days per week of resistance training. Now this doesn’t necessarily mean pumping iron or running to the gym every day. Resistance training can be done practically anywhere and is any activity that provides weight-bearing exercise. Activities that use body weight like yoga, climbing stairs, and even heavy gardening, count as resistance training. Rubber bands and exercising in the water are also options. The basics are as follows: depending on your conditioning levels, as little as 10 minutes of lifting light weights 2 to 3 times per week will do as a start. Keep in mind that, while you don’t have to cover every muscle in your body in one session, you’ll need to make sure to get to every major muscle group including back, chest, legs, shoulders, arms and abdominals, every week. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 8-12 repetitions for each exercise. These should be done slowly (about the time it takes to count one second) and the last repetition should be a real effort. If it is not, increase the repetitions to 15 or 20. Once this becomes easy, then try increasing the weight slightly. To avoid injury, it’s important to start slowly and establish a fitness baseline. Pick one or two exercises for each of the major muscle groups, avoid trying to cover everything in one session. So, if you train twice per week using resistance, divide you body into manageable halves. For instance, combine exercises the back and arms, like rows or pull-ups, with several for the legs, like squats and lunges, which use the quadriceps and the glutes. Pick other muscle groups like the chest, hamstring and shoulders for the next session. When first starting out, allow at least 48 hours of recovery time between sessions. This doesn’t mean recovering in front of the television doing nothing. Plan on active recovery with some light cardio like a brisk walk or light swim. Not only will this get blood flow to those sore muscles allowing them to heal faster, it counts toward the minimum 150 minutes of cardio per week that every exercise routine should include. This will all seem very confusing in the beginning, especially if you are new to exercise or sporadic in your efforts as most people are. Believe it or not, fitness industry surveys indicate that only about 20% of healthy adults are regular exercisers. So, if you need a little help, first check with your doctor to make sure you are healthy enough to exercise, then get some help. Join an exercise class at your local recreation center or gym. Hire a personal trainer to show you the ropes or choose from hundreds of exercise DVD’s that are especially tailored for beginners. Reversing muscle loss is just one of the benefits of resistance training. Lean muscles are hungry for energy and burn fat to get it. For women, resistance training has been shown to combat ostopenia and osteoporosis. Looking better in your clothes is a pleasant by-product as well. Two websites that offer a wealth of information on how to get started are The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention at and the American College of Sports Medicine at There is a lot of ground to cover so; I’ll be featuring muscle groups and the exercises that can strengthen them in later postings. In the meantime, arm yourselves with some knowledge to start. Then get ready for some heavy gardening! (Just kidding.)


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