active living

Stay strong

Maintaining muscle mass is key to independent living

weight lifting

Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Wave, September / October 2016

Living independently and engaging in our favourite activities as we age is something we all want, yet many Canadians are not active enough to make this a reality.

Over the years, adults lose muscle mass (strength) and the ability to contract muscles quickly (power). If we do nothing about it, this can lead to challenges in daily living and increased frailty as we age.

Participating in a game of softball with friends, going for a bike ride, or gardening becomes difficult as you lose strength. Without the right plan in place, even everyday tasks like carrying a bag of heavy groceries or getting out of the bathtub or up from a chair gradually become a challenge.

On average, we lose 10 per cent of our strength per decade of our life, or about one per cent a year after the age of 25. Though statistics tell us that a decline in strength is inevitable, you can slow it down and stay stronger, longer. And, the good news is, no matter your age or ability, you can get stronger by doing resistance or strength training to regain some of the muscle mass you have lost.

The old adage that "it's never too late to start" definitely applies to strength training and building muscle.

Whether you're 30 or 65 years of age, you can safely start a strength-training routine. Research shows the benefits you reap can reduce falls, improve your posture, decrease body fat, develop healthier bones and improve your reaction time.

Ideally, you want to do strength training at least two times a week, using the major muscle groups in your legs, trunk and arms. You can do exercises at home using hand weights or resistance bands, or at a gym using a range of equipment. 

The hardest part is getting started, so here are a few tips to begin.

Seek help. If you have been inactive for years or have a medical condition, joint pain or injury, see a health-care professional or medical fitness facility to help you develop a safe and effective strength-
training program.

Start slowly. Train two or three times a week with one day rest in between. Exercise all the muscle groups of your legs, arms, shoulders, chest, back and abdomen, aiming for about eight to 10 different exercises. Do at least one "set" of each exercise, or approximately eight to 15 repetitions. Rest for two to three minutes. Repeat another set or two of each exercise. Once you are able to do an exercise more than 10 to 15 times in one set, you should increase the weight. Progression is important for building strength.

Be safe. Don't lift so much weight that you can't maintain the proper technique. If you are not sure about your form, you risk making the exercise ineffective or dangerous. A certified trainer can help. Breathe naturally. Don't hold your breath.

Track your progress. Write down your exercises and the weight that you are lifting. Seeing improvement is motivating and proven to help you stick to your goals. Consider an InBody screening test or other measurement that tracks body composition. Muscle mass weighs more but is more compact than fat so it is difficult to measure changes in your body using just a scale.  

Eat well. Eating a healthy diet is crucial for maintaining energy and overall health. Carolyn Somerville, a registered dietitian at the Wellness Institute, says, "Drinking water throughout the day and consuming a protein and carbohydrate at each meal and after you exercise is important to help with muscle recovery and growth."

Don't forget to reward yourself. It will help you stay on track with your activity goals.

Karin Whalen is the Director of Community Services for the Wellness Institute at Seven Oaks Hospital.

Above: seated row and bicep curl (inset).

Work it!

Ideally, you want to do strength training at least two times a week, using the major muscle groups in your legs, trunk and arms. Here are two examples of some effective strength training exercises to get you started:

Bicep Curl
Work the muscles in the front of your arm by holding the weight at a 45 degree angle and lifting it to your shoulder. Start with whatever feels comfortable. Even five-pound weights can be effective. Begin with three sets of eight to 10 repetitions, resting for two or three minutes between sets. Once you are able to do an exercise more than 10 to 15 times in one set, you should increase the weight.

Seated Row
Work the back muscles by pulling on a seated row exercise machine. Find your resistance comfort level and do three sets of 10 to 15 pulls, resting for two or three minutes between sets. Increase resistance as required.   

Future innovation

The importance of staying active as we age is clear, but research continues to provide us with new information to help us get well and stay well. Researchers at the Seven Oaks Hospital Chronic Disease Innovation Centre are exploring the impact of muscle loss and frailty on health status. Researcher Dr. Navdeep Tangri says, "We've found that frailty is common in patients with chronic disease and affects their physical and mental well-being." Regular physical activity as we age, including resistance training, can reduce the risk of frailty and enhance overall health. 

Wave: September / October 2016

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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