The Miracle Anti-Aging Cure!
Mention weight training and body builders with bulging biceps and thick necks come to mind.
But weight training - also known as resistance or strength training - can be done by anyone,
even frail 90-year-olds. It doesn’t have to mean ‘bulking up’. In fact, it doesn’t even have to
If you enjoy food, it’s probably something you should consider. That’s because whether
you’re male or female, sporty or not, pumping iron can help you avoid being part of what’s now
a national trend: getting fatter as you age.
Thanks to a Christmas party here and a take-away dinner there, every year, on average, a couple
of extra kilos find their way onto each of our bodies. And since it’s so much easier to gain
weight than lose it, the extra fat tends to hang around. We might not notice the small annual
gains until we try on a pair of jeans from a decade ago, or look back through our photo albums.
But when we do, the reality can come as a shock.
If this sounds familiar, take heart. It’s not just a question of eating more and exercising less
(although that’s often what happens as we get older, acquire wealth for indulgences like eating
out and get time-squeezed by families and/or more demanding jobs). There’s actually
something more insidious at play. As we age, hormonal changes mean the amount of muscle
on our bodies declines. All up, muscle mass may drop by as much as 50 per cent between the
ages of 20 and 90, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.
That’s significant because muscle, unlike fat, is active tissue that burns fuel even when we’re
just slobbing around. Assuming we don’t do anything to compensate, this means that as we
get older, we need less fuel to keep our normal bodily functions ticking over. If we don’t want to gain weight, we have to eat less than when we were younger.
How much less? It depends on your age, your activity level and your build. A 49-year-old
inactive woman of average height and weight, for instance, should eat nearly 600 kJ a day less
than a 19-year-old of the same build and activity level. While 600 kJ isn’t very much - it’s
equivalent to a medium-sized banana - overeating by just that little amount every day equates to
a weight gain of half a kilo a month, or around six kilos a year.
Thankfully, such a large weight gain doesn’t occur in practice because our appetite
compensates somewhat for the drop in metabolism. In other words, most of us don’t end up
consistently overeating to that degree every day. But nonetheless, the average Australian
gains around three kilos every ten years and the drop in muscle mass as we age is a significant
component of this.
(You can get a rough idea of how much you should be eating each day to maintain your current
weight by entering your details in a daily energy intake calculator like the one accessible under
‘calculators’ at http://www.mayoclinic.com/programsandtools/index.cfm.)
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‘One-size-fits-all’ clothes needn’t be an inevitable part of aging, though. Exercise of any kind
will burn kilojoules and help maintain muscle mass. And at least 30 minutes of aerobic
activity such as brisk walking is recommended on a daily basis. But if you add to that just two
20-minute weight-training sessions a week, you can start to work wonders.
Experts say that after just three months of an appropriate program, you can gain an extra 1.3
kilograms of muscle and boost your metabolism by seven per cent or more. Women in
particular need not worry about bulking up. Apart from their lower testosterone levels which
limit muscle size, avoiding very heavy weights means you’ll end up sleek and sculptured rather
than big and beefy. If you swap fat for muscle - which is more dense - you can actually lose
centimetres even if your weight doesn’t change.
And you don’t need to be tied to a gym membership. You don’t even have to go near a barbell
if you don’t want to. A good book or website can teach you how to safely challenge your
muscles at home, using either large elastic resistance bands, the weight of your own body or
even objects like soup tins. As your strength increases, however, you might need to
progressively increase the load to keep your muscles challenged. (Good books include Weight
training for dummies by Liz Neoprent and Suzanne Schlosberg, John Wiley and Sons, 2001 and
Strong women stay slim by Miriam Nelso and Sarah Wernick, Lothian Books, 1998
But since incorrect technique can slow your progress or even cause injuries, at least one initial
session with a qualified instructor who can check your form could be useful. Some local
community health centres also run classes. You should check with your doctor first if you
have any health problems, have not been doing regular exercise or are middle aged or older.
As well as fat-busting, other health benefits of weight training include increased strength and
endurance for everyday activities, stronger bones, more flexible joints, improved mental health,
better balance and protection against heart disease and diabetes.
That’s as close to an anti-ageing miracle cure as you’re likely to find!
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