This is an excerpt from Strength Training Past 50-3rd Edition by Wayne L. Westcott & Thomas R. Baechle.
If we were to compare the muscles of the body to an automobile, they would be analogous to the engine. As noted earlier, your muscles serve as the engines of your body, and strong muscles enable you to function better in all physical activities. Your muscles are also similar to the shock absorbers and springs in an automobile, and strong muscles help you to feel better because they protect joints from a variety of potentially harmful external forces. Finally, muscles are like the chassis of an automobile because they largely define your appearance. Although excess fat can definitely detract from your appearance, your muscles actually provide your fundamental physique or figure. Consequently, strong muscles make you look better.
If you would like to function better, feel better, and look better, then you should begin a regular resistance training program that progressively strengthens all your major muscle groups. As you will learn in the following chapters, you can attain excellent results from relatively basic and brief programs of strength training using resistance machines in fitness centers or by performing free-weight or body-weight exercises in your home. We present research-based training protocols that are safe, effective, and efficient, with a proven track record of success for people over age 50.
Without regular resistance exercise you will continue to lose muscle and bone, and you will have further reductions in strength and fitness. Aerobic activity such as walking, running, cycling, and dancing are preferable for promoting heart health and cardiorespiratory fitness, but they will not prevent age-related reductions in muscle and bone. Continue to perform regular aerobic activity, but be sure to complement your endurance exercise with sensible strength training.
Likewise, sensible nutrition is essential for general health, and dieting is far and away the fastest way to lose body weight. However, excellent eating habits alone will not prevent the loss of muscle and bone or the continued weakening of your musculoskeletal system. Dieting can be particularly problematic because low-calorie diets decrease both fat weight and lean (muscle) weight. The undesirable muscle loss results in reduction of metabolic rate that makes it most difficult to maintain the lower body weight. In fact, research reveals that 95 percent of dieters regain all of the weight they lost within the year after their diet program (Mann et al. 2007).
However, as you may recall, the older adults in our nutrition and strength training study concurrently lost 9 pounds of fat weight and added 3 pounds of lean (muscle) weight, for a 12-pound improvement in their body composition over a 10-week period (Westcott et al. 2013). Be sure to eat healthy and nutritious foods, with a reasonable reduction in caloric intake if necessary, but do not diet without performing appropriate resistance exercise. Remember that muscle gain is positively associated with increased metabolism and decreased fat.
Ideally, you should adopt a lifestyle that includes sound nutrition (presented in chapter 12), regular aerobic activity, and sensible strength training. All of these complementary activities are essential for optimal health and fitness and especially for enjoying older adult years.
Most athletes engage in resistance exercise to improve sport performance. These include older athletes who run, cycle, row, swim, ski, golf, play tennis, and engage in other physically challenging activities. However, most people over age 50 are at least as concerned about their general health and fitness as they are about their athletic abilities. This chapter presents 13 medically oriented and research-based reasons for engaging in regular resistance exercise:
- Rebuilding muscle
- Recharging metabolism
- Reducing fat
- Reducing resting blood pressure
- Improving blood lipid profiles
- Enhancing postcoronary performance
- Resisting diabetes
- Increasing bone density
- Decreasing physical discomfort
- Enhancing mental health
- Revitalizing muscle cells
- Reversing physical frailty
- Combating cancer
Men and women of all ages respond favorably to sensible strength training, which has been shown to improve many health and fitness factors associated with quality of life and quantity of years. When you implement one of the strength training programs presented in this book, you take a proactive role in your personal health care. There is no medicine that provides as many physical and mental benefits as regular resistance exercise does.
Adapted from Westcott WL. Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health. Current Sports Medicine Reports 11(4): 209-216, 2012, courtesy of the American College of Sports Medicine.
Learn more about Strength Training Past 50, Third Edition.