April 02, 2023 7 min read
As the ageing process begins, many people think that the effects of ageing are inevitable. However, a proper training program can prevent both the mental and physical deterioration of ageing, helping to keep your heart in top condition, as well as maintaining muscle definition and a sharp brain. Due to this, exercise is the best total body anti-ageing tool that is available to everyone because it has the ability to keep you looking young and feeling energized which is more effective than other methods such as supplements or plastic surgery.
There is a decline in bone mass of about 1% a year after the age of 35. Whilst women lose the most bone when going through the menopause, men are also at risk of bone loss and osteoporosis which is a condition linked with a big increase in fracture risk. It can be argued that instead of prescribing patients with calcium supplements or prescription drugs, to prevent bone loss in ageing patients, doctors should prescribe a strength training program. This is because studies show that overloading the bone with loads is the best way to build bone in both the young and elderly. Any weight bearing exercise for example running on a treadmill will help slow bone loss, in order to stimulate a bone building effect, loading the hip and spine with weight you are unaccustomed to will help achieve this. A case study found that two women who competed in powerlifting for over 20 years had stronger bones in comparison to women who were 25 years younger and at the peak of bone mineral density.
Depression is a common aspect of ageing due to a decrease in brain transmitters such as dopamine that help us to feel motivated and upbeat which is why one of the most interesting anti-ageing effects of exercise is how it influences our stress response, hormone balance and mood. A sedentary lifestyle emphasises the release of stress hormones that are experienced during ageing, whilst we may not associate sitting down to be stressful, our bodies are not supposed to be inactive and so responds with an excessive cortisol response. Strength training and interval programs stimulate the neuromuscular system creating the effect of better fat burning, increased cognitive function, improved energy levels, greater muscle mass in addition to the ability to handle challenging parts of life we experience.
Scientists believe that the age-related decline in strength and muscle mass is as a result of the disuse of the neuromuscular system, rather than ageing. It is important to maintain strength as studies show a close correlation between strength and longevity of life. One explanation of this is that as strength decreases, risk of falling increases with fractures caused often leading to a reduction in health ending in mortality; statistics in the UK support this as they show that 33% of people who fracture a hip in the UK die within 12 months. Therefore, strength and muscle follows the idea of “use it or lose it”. Through the correct training habits, you can maintain your muscle and strength throughout your life, it is possible to regain previously lost muscle to prevent negative effects of inactivity if you adopt a training program in your later years. There are several reasons why muscle has a protective effect against ageing; muscle mass in the lower body is associated with the ability to survive cancer and other diseases. Muscle tissue is a major metabolic organ, it is a main consumer of glucose, and thereby a lack of muscle means that the body will not be able to cope well with the surge of insulin resistance as well as diabetes. As muscle is the storage space for the building blocks of protein, if you fall ill and possess a low muscle mass, you have fewer reserves to help combat the illness.
Emerging research has linked exercise to less depression, quicker learning and better memory which was shown in one study where participants who performed a sprint interval workout improved their recall of new vocabulary by 20%, creating a contrast to a control group that did no exercise. It is believed by researchers that intense exercise has the ability to reduce memory loss as it raises the adrenaline hormones that stimulate the brain. Exercise can also decrease the risk of brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s which is characterized by the deposition of proteins in the brain which is similar to plaque that builds up in the arteries and leads to heart disease. Exercise has a protective effect which has been shown in studies in people who have a genetic predisposition to develop Alzheimer’s because it allows for a better metabolism of glucose and fat in the brain, which has the effect of reducing the deposition of harmful plaque build-up.
Aerobic exercise like jogging leads to muscle loss over the long term as it does not stimulate muscle sufficiently. To sustain muscle by lifting weights or performing muscle contractions through isometric holds or sprinting, you are “overloading” your body by performing activity that you are not necessarily accustomed to. As people age and become increasingly inactive their muscle tissue is degraded and eventually lost which leads to harmful metabolic changes. This includes; cells becoming less sensitive to the hormone insulin with the body spending more time in a fat storage mode. Fat gain occurs as a result of the loss of muscle and inactivity that leads to a drop in your metabolism, resulting in your body burning fewer calories on a daily basis. This creates an energy imbalance, causing your body to gain fat. Inactivity means the body becomes unable to use fatty acids effectively which in turn leads to inflammation and the development of atherosclerosis or plaque deposition along with the hardening of the arteries. A proper training program will counteract the age-related decrease in the metabolism as active muscle requires calories in the form of glucose. Moreover, muscle contractions automatically sensitize the muscle tissue to insulin with fat burning increasing and the body using fatty acid effectively and efficiently for energy. During metabolically stressful situations for example strength or interval training, growth hormone is released which enhances the fat burning effect in addition to improving muscle mass. The after burn effect of exercise enables your body to increase the amount of calories it burns within the 24 hour recovery period.
Aerobic exercise such as cycling or walking trains the heart and improves blood pressure however the most important thing to consider when choosing a form of exercise is what you will enjoy most as this will give you the best chance of sticking to regular workouts. Strength training is recommended as a top priority because you will get more out of your efforts than with a strict aerobic program. Furthermore, there are drawbacks to aerobic exercise that strength training can counteract for example strength training overloads the muscles helping them to increase in both strength and size. This form of exercise also improves hormone balance, enhances reflexes and coordination, boosts cognition, reduces the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases and burns fat whilst maintain lean muscle mass.
Studies show that best results develop from training 3 or 4 times a week. Training sessions should last around an hour consisting of a warm-up, the main workout, and a cool-down. Longer workouts lead to a drop in training intensity because you are not able to perform quality work for longer than an hour. Although this is not optimal, one day a week of strength training can improve muscle, strength and physical function. To help establish the habit of time commitment, starting with 2 days a week and working up from there can make it easier to manage. The best results are achieved from completing a warm-up, followed by 5 to 6 exercises and finishing with a cool-down.
Intensity refers to how heavy the weight lifted is and is relative to the individual. If you are completely new to exercise it is a good idea to start with your body weight, simply learning to lower and raise your body in a squatting position with the correct technique, completing the movement without pain. As you gain in strength, adding weight and starting to use intensity will help to ensure you continue to progress through challenging your muscles. It is usually recommended to alternate between a phase in which you focus on improving lean muscle through training with weights between 65-80% for 8 to 15 repetitions and a phase aimed at increasing strength. The latter phase will use weights that are slightly heavier for 2 to 8 reps instead. Each of these phases should be 3 to 6 weeks long as after 3 weeks the body begins to adapt to your training and so if you do not change your workouts by 6 weeks, your progress begins to stagnate. Studies show that more sets are better for getting results, up to a point, for older trainees 2 to 3 sets in a workout that includes 6 exercises will be sufficient whereas for young athletes 5 sets would be more appropriate. The length of your rest period will depend on individual’s training for strength or for muscle or fat loss. Training with heavier loads aimed at building strength have an ideal rest period in the 2 to 3 minute range, although during supersets, 90 second rest periods can help to save time. Rest periods can be shorter when training for body composition, for these it is recommended the rest period is in the 60 second range. Short rest periods are more ideal as they trigger metabolic stress which allow your lean tissue to increase as well as fat to be burned, whilst targeting the aerobic energy system throughout.
Workouts tend to be designed around exercises that are multi-joint because these motions have the greatest link to everyday life as well as targeting the greatest amount of muscle at a time. These include exercises such as lunges, squats, chest press, rows, leg press, pull-downs, step-ups and overhead press. Single joint exercises allow you to train weak areas and perform “pre-habilitation” exercises that are focused on injury prevention such as back extension, bicep and tricep exercises along with hamstring curls. Alternating between two exercises using opposing muscle groups in supersets are time-efficient. For example, squats followed by a chest press on a bench with dumbbells whereby you alternate between these exercises until you have completed 3 sets, followed by a superset of step-ups and lat-pulldowns and finishing with a back extension and external shoulder rotation. In terms of recovery, high-quality nutrition, a good night’s rest and stress reduction methods are all key elements to complete recovery so that you gain the most out of your efforts.
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