For men, strength peaks in the 20-30’s and commences a steady decline in our 40’s. Coupled with a busy lifestyle with family, work and often a lack of energy and motivation as we age – sarcopenia can have a profound effect on our body and what we can do as we head into our grey years.
What exercise is appropriate as we age?
Identifying and creating an appropriate exercise program is a common problem. Men who are new to resistance training or have been out of the gym for some time, can be confused by how to apply strength training principles. How many repetitions are enough? What weight should I start with? Will I reaggravate an injury or cause a new one? Is there a difference between strength and power? Where to start?
Sarcopenia, a term derived from the Greek language, literally translates as “loss of flesh”. As a normal part of the ageing process, it involves the reduction in the number of muscle fibres and the function of the nerves that activate our muscles. The main reason for changes is the reduction of the muscle building hormone testosterone. However, the impact of sarcopenia is increased when coupled with poor lifestyle choices, inactivity or disease.
As you age, have you noticed a little more effort is needed to get out of your chair; or something you used to lift with ease is now a challenge? Perhaps your knees are also sore with little muscle around them. Lack of practice or a few years between regular exercise sessions may be why. Or it could be Sarcopenia.
The effects of muscle loss
We experience firsthand the effect this muscle loss has on the male population, be it a bad back, a broken bone following a fall, sore knees from little muscle support or simply reduced capacity to get on with living.
Once we reach our 5th decade, there is a constant steady loss of muscle each year. From our mid 60’s the decline increases rapidly. It is more pronounced in the lower limbs, with reductions of up to 28%. In the upper limb strength declines can be up to 19.5%.
Changes in strength has a significant effect on our lives. Not only is it a challenge to keep up with the younger guys and the kids, it can also reduce capacity to complete everyday tasks. Maybe not an issue to you in your 60’s but has carry on effects for when you are in your 70’s and 80’s. The ability to climb stairs, carry objects and steady ourselves when we trip is an important consideration when you are becoming a little more frail. A decreased capacity can lead to depression and less inclination to participate in activity. The knock-on effect being increased weight, higher falls risk and increased risk of conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Joint disease and bone health is also a consequence of reduced physical activity.
Is it reversible?
However, it is not all doom and gloom. Research has found ways we can minimise and potentially reverse the effects of Sarcopenia. The most compelling evidence points to resistance training as having the capability to increase strength, even while we lose muscle mass. In both trained and untrained men across the lifespan, exercises using moderate to heavy loads two times a week for three months achieves gains on maximum lifts and improvement in timed walking distances, stair climbing and reactive balance.
The research is inconclusive on the role resistance training has on testosterone production, with suggestion that it can increase the levels circulating in your body following a work-out. However, we do know that we can increase testosterone levels with improved sleep quality and weight management. Two secondary outcomes following a regular resistance-based exercise session.
A tailored program is most effective
An ideal program should be tailored to you. It takes into consideration your age, training history, injuries and goals. This becomes more important when working with older bodies with all sorts of niggles and the gym no longer is about working on your beach muscles!
Physiotherapists are ideally placed to help you identify these elements. Understanding exercise across genders and the lifespan is a key part of our role. The term functional exercise has been on trend in the fitness industry over the past decade, but has been part of physio training for over 70 years. Maximise the strength of your ageing body, improve your function and reduce the effect of frailty as you age.
SquareOne Performance is a Physio led Clinical Strength and Conditioning program that is outcome focussed and goal orientated. It is specific to your needs, your sport or activity and considers your musculoskeletal or injury history. We will guide you through your journey using the latest evidence-based strength and conditioning principles to allow you to perform at your best.
Our individualised program is based on a comprehensive assessment process that considers your previous injury history, movement patterns, training history, current physical capacity and the goals that you aspire to. In collaboration, we then develop your Performance program that will elevate you to a new level of physical function. Recovery and tissue maintenance principles are covered to help optimise your outcomes.