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Wednesday Wellbeing: Graceful Aging (by Kat Hamblin)

The common saying, "youth is wasted on the young," like so many sayings is true; but this truth is only known once we have experienced the opposite, i.e. gotten older.

Youth and health seem to be synonymous in our culture. We praise the beauty, energy, and strength of young bodies. We pay with our money and our time to maintain these qualities, and we panic when we feel them slipping from us. Like so many other things, we’ve made youth and aging binary and excluded the possibility of enjoying the in-between.

Although we see aging as the loss of things, there are also things we gain. We gain security, stability, and wisdom. Things that were severely lacking in our youth, and we may have been better off if we had just a small dose of them! When it comes to the physical body, a new developmental phase starts. It is the ripening or the autumn leaves turning from green to gold and red. Here are some important changes that happen and how you can set yourself up to be able to enjoy this time.

Bone density is 80% determined by one’s genetics. For both males and females, bone mineral density accumulates from birth to about age 25-30. Then it plateaus for 10 years, after this both sexes start to lose 0.3-0.5% of their bone density each year. However, for females, menopause marks an increased rate of bone density loss making them more susceptible to fracture and osteoporosis. Research shows that active individuals (people engaging in exercise regularly) ) have a slightly decreased rate of bone loss when compared to sedentary individuals (which includes people who only walk). Adults who exercise decrease their risk of fracture, most likely by decreasing the risk of falls.

Muscle mass decreases by 3-8% per decade after the age of 30, and more dramatically after the age of 60. Muscle mass loss is accompanied by an increase in fat mass is a part of the aging process. For females, there is a change in the distribution of the fat from hips and thighs to stomachs and internal organs during menopause, however, they do not see a change in the rate of decline in lean muscle mass like men do. Men over the age of 65 see a dip in testosterone to below-normal youth values, a phase called andropause. Testosterone replacement has been shown to increase muscle mass, strength, protein synthesis, and bone density. However, in both males and females, hormone replacement therapy has been shown to have serious side effects with the current protocols.

Strength training does improve muscle mass in both young and elderly populations and has been shown to improve quality of life and decrease the risk of falls. Interestingly, aerobic exercise does increase muscle synthesis (building new muscle) too, while not having the effect of obvious muscle hypertrophy (visible increase in muscle mass). Physical activity guidelines recommend a minimum of 150 minutes each week of moderate-intensity exercise and resistance training a minimum of 2 times each week.

Importantly, our muscle tissue is sensitive to glucose and insulin for fuel production. As we age, our insulin sensitivity and risk for type 2 diabetes increases. It has been shown that maintaining lean body mass may have a preventative effect against developing diabetes.

There are more factors in everything mentioned above like nutrition and hormones. However, strength training throughout the lifetime allows one to reap the benefits at the cellular level and in our functional lives by improving our quality of life and decreasing our risk for life-altering health events. If you are interested in starting or getting back to strength training, we would love to help you.

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