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Ester Marsh column: Why it is important to lift weights when getting older

We have all heard the saying “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” So not using your muscles makes you lose your muscle tone. When you are younger, you sometimes are able to get away with it. Your metabolism is higher and muscle tone is better.

Studies show that after age 40, most people lose about one percent of their muscle mass each year and 1.5 percent per year past 50 when not lifting weights.

The obvious effect is decreasing strength. Fatigue sets in faster, and it is harder to do the things you once did. When you are weaker, walking and other activities are more difficult to do which may result in your doing it less often. That, in turn, may cause balance difficulties and an increased risk of falling.

Fortunately, studies have also shown that building muscle can stop all of these effects or even reverse them. That is true no matter how old you are or what kind of shape you are in. This includes the ability to build your body back up to full and strong muscles.

The American College of Sports medicine recommends for the older adults (65 and older), weight training twice a week with moderate intensity. Slowly increase the weight 8-10 exercises per major muscle groups and 1 set of 10-15 repetitions.

Weight lifting, according to studies, is one of the most important activities that older adults should pursue to stay healthy. In fact, out of all age groups, older adults may benefit most from the practice. It is not only going to give you back the muscles you are losing or have lost, but it could possibly increase your mobility and make you less dependent on others.

For the older population, the benefits from weightlifting outweigh the need for a Greek god-like figure! The National Institute of Aging also recommends weight lifting and the continuance of aerobic activity. Lots of older adults think that weight lifting is for those who are already physically fit. That is not the case — you are never too old or too out of shape to start. You do want to talk to your doctor before you start. Lots of times, older adults have existing health conditions.

More tips are:

• Use experienced and trained staff.

• Is the equipment easy to use?

• Are there programs/classes available for the older adults?

• How is the atmosphere? (How does it feel to you?)

• How accessible are the staff members?

• Are there other older adults working out there?

So, start your weightlifting program (after you talk to your doctor) and get more than just your muscles back in shape! The YMCA of Rowan County takes Silver Sneakers and Silver and Fit. If you do not know if your supplemental insurance has Silver Sneakers or Silver and Fit, our front desk will be more than happy to help you with that!

Next week, the importance of weight training for the younger adults.

Ester H Marsh, ACSM Cpt and Health & Fitness Director JF Hurley Family YMCA

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