Muscle rules! As far back as I can remember, I have heard people say things like, “Well, you know, I’m getting old.” as an excuse to let themselves go. I have known mere girls of 30 who cried for days when they turned 30 because they thought that it meant a descent into fat and frumpy. Men are not immune to this line of thinking. There is some truth in this if you are not proactive concerning your health and your appearance. We are criticized for being vain but the truth is, vanity is a strong motivator, especially as you age. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good.
Many of you know about my lifetime battle with my weight that was only won when I came to David’s Way. Through the years, I had tried endless diets and all kinds of exercises. I had been an avid swimmer, a runner, a pseudo-weight lifter, studied belly dancing, yoga, pilates, tai chi, calesthenics, HIIT training and sent myself to the chiropracter from jumping rope on hard-packed clay. I was in a hustle for that muscle! I used bands, a treadmill, a pull-up station in my home and joined gyms year after year. I had trainers and went to classes. I was my own guinea pig for exercise experiments. I had numerous DVD’s as long as that was a thing. I walked in my home to videos and hiked the Smokies. This is only a partial list of my activities. Let’s not forget bowling.
We know that nutrition is the most important factor in health and fitness and I struggled with that. I was a lifetime member of a well-known weight loss group. They allowed us to eat sugar and although I tracked my food religiously, the sugar cravings would always win out eventually. The weight might come off but it always returned. My muscle was continually declining. What was I doing wrong?!?
When I first began David’s Way, I bought a kettlebell for weight training. When I went into Dick’s Sporting Goods, they had a very serious bell that could be loaded with as much as 50 pounds. I bought it. Yes, there are 200 pound kettlebells but there are also 5 pound bells so a 50 pound bell looked like a challenge. The workouts that I started doing were not wimpy workouts. I could tell that I was beginning to stress my muscles. The workouts were challenging, but before long, I bought a standard barbell. I was about to learn a critical truth.
As I began the Starting Strength Program, it pushed me farther than I had ever gone before . My paltry 35 pound squat began to grow. As much as I feared deadlifting 100 pounds, before long, I was. My “Newbie Gains” got me hopelessly addicted to the Iron. There was no turning back.
The great Truth that was becoming crystal clear was simply that if I wanted amazing results, I had to do amazing things. A short, easy workout was NOT going to get me where I wanted to go. Muscle has to be damaged to repair itself to build. In my 20’s, a little walk around the block might keep me fit but believe me, at 64 it takes a whole LOT more. When I accepted the difficulty of the term, “Body Recomp”, I began to make serious progress. I learned to do hard things.
David wrote an excellent article, Losing Muscle Mass as We Age that discusses the impending change in body composition that accompanies ageing unless we aggressively fight against it. I well remember being a member of that famous weight loss group that allowed every day activity to earn the members more food to eat. Although I knew that this would not work for me, I gave it a try. I religiously tracked all of my food intake and energy output.
The other women in this group were always cleaning their houses and awarding themselves extra food for the activity. None of these woman had significant muscle. I tried counting housework as activity and gained 7 pounds in two weeks. It was not water weight, it was fat. It took me two MONTHS to get it off. Is it any wonder that out of these women, maybe 2% ever got to goal and not all of them were able to maintain their losses. In no time at all, most gained all of the weight back, eating their way into oblivion as they counted the calorie burn for washing dishes to justify eating more food.
As muscle wastes away, the signals that they send to bones to stay healthy begin to fade away, and osteoporosis can be soon to follow. We can walk the dog, do some Pilates or take a little Zumba class if we want to, but to keep the specter of these two age-related maladies away, we need some strength training. ONLY YOUR DOCTOR CAN DECIDE WHAT’S BEST FOR YOU. Talk to him to see how far you can go into strength training and what type.
There’s everything from elastic bands of different strengths to the barbell. It’s possible that he will recommend only body weight exercise. Performed correctly, it can do amazing things for muscle and bone. I have even read that when lap swimmers push off the wall of the pool at the end of their swimming lane, they build muscle and increase bone density in the hip. The water does provide some resistance and your doctor may only allow swimming until you get stronger or settle significant medical issues.
The point is, I had to work out hard. An evening stroll around the block was not changing my body. I watched as my muscle faded more and more with those wimpy workouts. After seeing your doctor, you may decide that you might benefit from working out as hard as you SAFELY can. When I was 21 years old, I could get in the floor and do calesthentics (body weight exercises) for 20 minutes, a few times a week, and change my body in a short period of time. While I don’t know what it will take for you, at 64 I work out harder than I have ever worked out in my life. It works for me. In three and a half years, my body composition has changed drastically. I began this journey with about 30% body fat. Now, as close as I can measure, I am at 16%. Nothing changed until I changed the intensity of my workouts. I had a clean bill of health from my doctor. NEVER try to push yourself before you have a check-up with your medical doctor where you tell him your exact intentions. Hidden health problems can be exacerbated by strenuous exercise.
We are all going to get old but we won’t all get frail. No one is immune to ageing but you have tremendous input into HOW you age. So you tell me, how will that be?