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  • Writer's pictureLisa Magnuson

Strength Decline as we Age

It's no secret, that as we age we lose strength. I want to shine a light on how much we lose and what we can do to prevent the decline.

Here are the scary statistics:

After the age of 40, people typically lose 1-2% of their muscle size per year, have a 3-5% reduction in strength and power per year, and a 8-10% decrease in speed and explosiveness per year. So by the time you are 60, you "could" have lost a decent amount of muscle size, had a substantial reduction in strength and power, and accumulated huge losses in speed and explosiveness.

If our goal is to die later in better health, these declines can be detrimental to our longevity. How do we combat such losses?

Well, the easiest way to make sure you don't suffer from this deterioration in physical heath is simple- resistance training. Yes, I know I'm singing to the choir with my choice of audience on this topic, but it is important to highlight just how much resistance training you need to do to maintain your muscle size and strength.

To simply maintain your muscle size after the age of 40, you need to complete between 6-10 working sets per muscle group per week. What does that mean? Well, we have warmups, and cool down, and working sets in between. For example, lets say you do 3 strength training sessions a week. Perhaps you divide it into lower body, upper body and full body/core. During that week you need to make sure that you have completed 6 -10 sets (not reps) of exercises that target a specific muscle, or muscle group. Depending on how you lift, some muscles can get hit easily 6-10 times but smaller, auxiliary muscles might be harder to target. It's fairly easy to get a lot of quad, glute and hamstring work done on a leg day, however if that is the only day that week you are focusing on targeting those muscles, you need to get 6-10 sets in during that workout for each of those muscles. That gets more intense.

Myles typically creates exercise programs that target multiple muscle groups several times per week, which reduces the chance of missing a muscle group entirely and increases the opportunities to get multiple sets in throughout the week hitting those muscles.

This is why exercise programming is so important. It's not just the exercise selection, but the balance throughout the week of making sure to hit every body part multiple times.

Left to our own devices, we aren't nearly has successful getting all the muscles groups taxed every week.

The 6-10 sets per week will help to maintain muscle size and can help minimize power and strength losses too if you are moving heavy loads. Explosiveness and speed is where we see the biggest drop off and that is harder to train as we age. This general athleticism marker is important to try to mitigate substantial losses but not as important for overall health and longevity in comparison to muscles size and strength. Sure, it's good for you to do some explosive plyometrics occasionally but you don't need to make that the sole focus of your training regime.

There are safe and effective ways to train for explosiveness as we age however. For example, skipping, quick feet, broad jumps, drop squats, depth jumps (stepping off something higher than ground level), and anything that has a quick stretch/shortening action of the muscle(s). Done safely, these can all assist in maintaining your speed and explosiveness as you age which will help reduce the likelihood of injuries as well.

This is a direct quote, from a recent NY Times article interviewing Dr. Peter Attia, author of "Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity".

"If you were to say to someone, 'If you don’t do anything else to increase your health span, at least start doing X,' what would X be? For most people, the answer is exercise more. Then within that, you can get into the weeds. Many people, I think, are underemphasizing strength training. There’s the sense that, Yep, I’m out there, I’m hiking, I’m walking. Those things are great, but the sine qua non of aging is the shrinkage or atrophy of Type 2 muscle fiber. That’s the thing we probably have to guard most against, and you can’t do that without resistance training. Count the number of times in human history when someone in the last decade of their lives said: “I wish I had less muscle mass. I wish I was less strong.” The answer is zero."

We want all our friends, family and clients to live their best life long into their later years. It is becoming increasingly apparent, when compiling the results of scientific studies measuring the benefits of resistance training, that body weight training and/or lifting loads is an extremely effective way to guard against age related declines in health.

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