Training your weak links

‘On an average we lose one pound of muscle each year as of age 25.’

Contributing Columnist

Remember when you looked toned and muscular even though you didn’t spend much (or any) time at the gym? Little by little, in spite of a new dedication to working out and a healthy lifestyle, time has taken its toll on your muscles.

Age-related muscle loss, or sarcopenia, can start as early as 20 or 25 but is most drastic after age 60. Over time muscle cells atrophy and start converting muscle fibers into fat as a result of motor neurons no longer sending signals to your brain to move the muscles. On an average we lose one pound of muscle each year as of age 25. If you take into account that one pound of muscle burns 70 calories a day, an easy calculation will bring you to the sobering fact that you can lock out on an extra 1,400 calorie-burn a day by middle age. This is when we realize that our metabolism has slowed down.

That is another reason to hone in on the importance of upper-body strength, particularly for women. Typically women do not have strong upper bodies. Women possess about 40-60 percent of the upper-body strength and 70-75 percent of the lower-body strength compared to a man, according to the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s position paper on “Strength Training for Female Athletes.”

This can cause a variety of issues especially among middle-aged woman going from shoulder pathologies to cervical and postural problems along with osteopenia and osteoporosis (bone loss). What causes this strength difference?

Physiologic differences such as size and body structure are more likely explanations for the average absolute strength differences between men and women. For example, the average American male is about 13 cm taller than the average female and about 18 kg heavier. Men average about 18 to 22 kg more lean body mass and 3 to 6 kg less fat than women. Men typically have a taller, wider frame that supports more muscle, as well as broader shoulders that provide a greater leverage advantage.

Bottom line is that women have to work harder and more specific to target their upper body strength. Think about all of the benefits that strength training produces. From a health and longevity aspect, strength training can:

• increase bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis

• improve the immune system, and decrease or reverse the effects of aging

• result in stronger connective tissues to increase joint stability and help prevent injury

• increase lean body mass (because of a higher metabolic rate) and decreased nonfunctional body fat

Also, as anyone who has ever lifted a weight in his or her life knows that strength training can elevate your mood, give you confidence, help you gain power for a sport such as tennis and golf, or just plain perk you up.

You don’t need to go to the gym to exercise your arms effectively. Pull-ups and push-ups are all you need to develop great arms. These classic moves demand control, balance and power, and the best thing is that you use your own body weight as resistance. If you can do push-ups and pull-ups properly, you will develop healthy and attractive arms.

If you prefer hand-held weights, you can use small barbells or homemade weights, such as bottles of various sizes tightly filled with water. Be creative. Even a gallon of milk or can of paint can become an exercise weight.

You can also join me at the Longboat Key public beach access on Broadway (#100) at 8 a.m., Tuesday and Thursdays mornings to participate in a 30-minute moderately paced walk, while performing a safe upper-body strength workout consisting of low weights and high repetitions (BYOW: bring your own weights). It’s a perfect start to a great day.

Dominique Kohlenberger has a Masters Degree in Physical Therapy, is a Certified Health Coach and is the owner of Healthy Longevity on Longboat Key. Email questions to dkohlenberger@lbknews.com.

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