What comes to mind if I ask what the benefits of exercise are?
Probably, muscle growth and better fitness/cardiovascular resistance. These are generally the first and often only answers as these benefits are clearly visible and measurable.
But did you know that your regular exercise can help prevent the loss of muscle and bone mass related to ageing?
Let’s look into muscle and bone mass loss individually.
Sarcopenia – what is it? This term is used to describe ageing related muscle loss. In simple terms, as we get older, our muscles tend to lose quality, density and therefore strength. You might be surprised to hear that this process starts from as early as your 30s! It’s probably quite intuitive to see how resistance (weight) training can help slow this process down. During weight training, the muscles are put under stress – they contract, they relax, they lengthen, they shorten – to repair and grow with rest and sufficient protein intake. If we were to stop training, our muscles will naturally start to lose density. An appropriate protein intake could help maintain some of this muscle mass, but sarcopenia will start slowly working in the background regardless and the process will inevitably speed up as we get older (generally from the age of about 65). Studies show how weight training is the most effective form of prevention as well as intervention after diagnosis. So you basically want to start training as soon as possible and make this a life-long habit!
Osteopenia and osteoporosis are the two progressive stages of bone density loss, with the second one being diagnosed as an actual condition. Osteopenia simply indicates that one’s bone density is lower than it should be, but not critically low. Now, it’s probably a little trickier to see the connection between exercise and bones – have you ever heard of anyone training to get stronger bones?! However, if you think about it for a second you will see how exercising affects your bones too – our skeleton is our frame so it makes sense that the stronger and denser our bones are, the more reliable our frame and the better our chances of being able to walk or stand without falling over. Think about your plants – if you want them to stay green and leafy you must water them regularly. Similarly, if you want your bones to be healthy and strong, you must regularly stimulate them through loading and exercising. Almost any type of exercise can lead to better bone health – from weight bearing (walking, running, body weight exercise) to resistance exercise. The only exceptions are probably cycling and swimming – great for the lungs, but not as beneficial for the bones given that our weight is all on one place or taken away from floating in water. So if you hear us going on about NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis – the calories burned from non-planned activity, like walking, cleaning, fidgeting..) and steps, it’s not only so that you burn extra calories, but we also have your bone health in mind!
Both sarcopenia and osteoporosis are often “silent” conditions – they generally don’t show with pain or symptoms and are often only diagnosed after a fall that led to one or more bone factures. I’m not trying to scare you, but for how much we don’t like it and struggle to accept it, we age. Our body age more than we can tell just by looking in the mirror. I bet that when you started to notice your first white hair or wrinkles (if you don’t have any of those, TELL ME YOUR SECRET NOW!), you panicked a little and you run to the shop to buy some anti-aging cream, right after booking a hairstylist appointment. At the ripe age of 29 I bought my first anti-ageing cream after seeing what looked like a wrinkle around my lips. Maybe if I listened to my mum and used a good cream regularly my skin would be in better shape now? I’ll never know for sure, but something tells me that she was right.
I’m now giving you power – the incredible power of KNOWLEDGE –: you know that your muscles and bones will start to get older (or they are already in the process), there is no avoiding this, but you have the power to slow things down. No one else can do it but you.
Have you found those trainers at the bottom of your wardrobe yet?
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