I recently visited my 87 year old grandmother in the nursing home with my two daughters. During the visit, my grandmother wanted to take the girls to the kitchen to let them choose a snack for our trip home. The kitchen was only about 100 feet from my grandmother’s chair, and yet she needed her wheelchair for the trip. Within the past two years, she would have been able to use her walker to walk with us to the kitchen. This time she struggled to lift herself from her chair to switch to the wheelchair.
As we left the nursing home, my daughters asked why Great Grandma had so much trouble moving to her wheelchair and why she could no longer walk using a walker. With my answer to this question, I was able to teach my daughters a valuable lesson that I hope will stay with them throughout their lives. I taught them that an active lifestyle and consistent strength and cardio exercise provide powerful benefits to the body as we age.
As we age, the body naturally loses muscle, generally beginning after age 40 and accelerating in the 70s. This process is known as sarcopenia. (I must give credit to Michael Wood, Chief Fitness Officer of Koko FitClub, who introduced me to word sarcopenia during my cardio workouts.) It is evident, however, that this loss of muscle mass occurs at a different pace in different people. For my grandmother, the loss of muscle was faster than others, including her sister-in-law who recently turned 91 and is still incredibly active and lives in her home. Although I am sure that there are genetic and other health factors that are partially responsible for the difference, one obvious difference is an active lifestyle versus a sedentary one.
Looking back, I would say my entire family suffers from having led a sedentary lifestyle for years, and my parents still suffer from it now. Sure, we participated in some sports and were never total couch potatoes, but fitness and exercise were never in focus when I was a child. My parents both struggled with their weight and continue to do so, and I have generally been in that same camp. But now, as I watch my parents and my grandmother age, in combination with learning more about the importance of exercise, I am determined to change the sedentary ways of my past.
The muscle mass loss from sarcopenia can be offset, and muscle mass can be built, through consistent strength training. In addition to helping you age more gracefully, strength training is also the most effective way to change the look and feel of your body. Strength training builds lean muscle tissue, which is less dense and therefore takes up less space than fat. It is also more metabolically active, which means it boosts your metabolism and calorie burning post workout!
I am now strength training 3 days per week consistently, in addition to 4 or more cardio workouts. Strength training is no longer an option for me; it is a requirement. Why? Because, as much as I love my grandmother and my parents, I don’t want to be like any of them “when I grow up.” Although it is unlikely that I will be the 82 year old women who I recently read about who is headed to climb Mount Everest with her daughter, I would like to be an 82, 87, or 91 year old who is still active, still living at home, still able to enjoy my life and my grandchildren and my great grandchildren (should I be blessed enough to have them). And, at 65, I’d like to be able to ride my bike along side them or take them for a hike (even if it isn’t climbing Mount Everest!).
There are certainly factors that will impact my aging that are out of my control, but I will never allow one of those to be sarcopenia! With consistent strength training, I am taking the reigns, and I do not intend to ever let go!