I often jokingly ask that if age is just a number, why is it that my backpack keeps getting heavier year after year? No, age is not just a number. As the figure keeps going up, other things keep going down. Of course, there are encouraging examples of age-defying success stories everywhere. Below is a photo of legendary bodybuilder Bill Pearl at age 59. Bill is still around today, at age 86.
The myth that you can’t maintain your muscle tone past age 50 has been busted by Bill Pearl, but make no mistake, this guy is a pro. The majority of us who have jobs and other commitment are very unlikely to be able to achieve Bill Pearl’s results. Neither do we need to achieve the same level of muscular development. Still, that is no excuse for not doing what we can to slow the loss of muscle mass and improve our general health and physique.
Why do people “slow down” and gain weight (fat) as they age? Research has shown that individuals past their 5th decade cannot escape a condition called sarcopenia whereby muscle cross section and mass are irreversibly lost. At age 80, a person who has done nothing to slow the progress of atrophy could have lost 50% of his/her muscle mass at age 25. The muscles most affected by sarcopenia are fast twitch fibres (responsible for powerful bursts) in the lower limbs. Slow twitch fibres (responsible for endurance) are affected to a lesser degree. Thus, it is very unlikely to find seniors competing in sprints even though you do sometimes find them running marathons.
But as Bill Pearl has proven, there is something we can do about age-related muscle atrophy. 70-year-olds who had trained consistently before and after the age of 50 have been shown to possess the muscle mass of some 28-year-olds. The keywords are “trained consistently”, but there are no clear guidelines as to how intensely one should train. Nevertheless, it is never too late to start. Even if you can’t regain the muscle mass of a 20-year-old, resistance training at any age will improve muscle strength and help prevent bone injuries. I’m a big fan of well-toned bodies and muscle diagrams. Here are a few of them.
OK, the photos above are for illustrative purposes only. Neither you nor I have the time and commitment to achieve those results. Some of the pictures may have even been doctored. And make no mistake, not every muscled being above is as healthy as he/she looks. I personally know some bodybuilders who go on the most extreme, organ-killing, liver-strangling diets known to man. Bodybuilders also don’t believe in aerobic exercises as they take up too much nutrients needed for muscle growth.
The important thing to note here is that resistance training is not just for the young, sexy and too free. It isn’t just for those who want to oil their bodies to flex, pose and flaunt on stage or social media either. Neither do we need expensive memberships in trendy gyms that will make us feel like baby-sitters. I personally don’t like gyms as they tend to be sweaty and invisibly dirty.
You are your own gym. Grab a copy of a book by that name and train in the comfort of your own home using tables, chairs, doors, towels and of course, your own body weight. There are other books, training methods and simple gadgets which I shall recommend elsewhere in this blog. Stay tuned.