Aging Muscles and Exercise
Fast Reaction and Helpful Hormones
New technology has produced some surprising information on the cellular response of muscle to various types of exercise. Super blood analyzers and computers have enabled scientists to monitor gene expression and hormonal release in muscle cells during and after sessions of exercise. The information from this research is revolutionizing our understanding of optimal exercise prescription for health and longevity. It appears that older individuals derive the most beneficial muscle cell response with fairly intense interval training sessions. Please take the time to read Gretchen Reynolds article in the New York Times, The Best Exercise for Aging Muscles.
Dr. Martin Gibala, a professor at the kinesiology department at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario recently released an outstanding book, The One Minute Workout. Dr. Gibala explains the science behind high intensity interval training (HIIT) and why it is safe and effective for older fitness participants.
Skeletal muscles produce beneficial biochemicals called myokines that stimulate a response in cells throughout the body. Myokines are a fairly new scientific discovery and we have only recently begun to understand their remarkable effect on human physiology. Myokines enhance blood vessel development, promote beneficial hormone levels, stimulate greater mitochondria production, and improve the metabolism of fat. In the older individual, myokine levels are enhanced with strength training and high intensity interval training.
The best method of creating more of the beneficial myokine biochemistry is to consistently perform some progressive resistance training followed by a brief but intense interval training session. This regimen of training is similar to that of track athletes involved in sprinting. These athletes have high levels of muscle mass and very low body fat levels.
Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS
Read the NY Times article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/23/well/move/the-best-exercise-for-aging-muscles.html
A Little Realistic Reasoning
Worst: I want to lose weight.
Most people are not successful in losing weight with exercise. The ones who are have generally been diligent in following a disciplined nutritional regimen and this was the reason the numbers on the scale went down. Now whether the reduction was good—fat loss, or bad—bone and muscle loss, we do not know, but exercise alone is generally a poor method of weight loss. Not losing any weight is a primary reason people stop participating in an exercise program.
Best: I want to stay healthy.
Two thirds of the American population get no regular physical activity. The adverse effects of a sedentary lifestyle have been proven. Physical inactivity is far more debilitating than most of us realize. One way or another, you will end up spending time and money on your health. Spend it up front with exercise and proper education, or spend it later on medical tests, disease treatments, and doctors’ bills. The good news is you get to choose.
Worst: I want six pack abs.
This is probably not going to happen no matter how hard most of us train. Body fat levels have to get down to well below 12 percent to see an outline of the abdominal muscles. Twelve percent for men is low and for women it may be unhealthy.
Best: I want my brain to function at high levels.
Lots of new research has been done on exercise and its effect on the brain. The animal and human research subjects that perform the most physical activity have the best scores on brain function tests. Read the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by Dr. John J. Ratey. I would rather have a pumped frontal cortex and a jacked hippocampus than chiseled abs.
Worst: I am making up for eating like an idiot.
You can’t out run a cookie. It is much easier to ingest more calories than burn them off with exercise. The damage caused by a diet filled with bad food, alcohol, and tobacco cannot be magically counter balanced with an hour on the elliptical or a step class. Success with exercise has a huge psychological component. Several studies have shown it is difficult to stay consistent with exercise if you mentally approach it as punishment for bad behavior.
Best: I want to feel good for a long time.
Move well and you feel well. If you can maintain the capacity to get off the floor, squat, lunge, and rotate, you will be far less likely to have pain. Rarely do I evaluate a patient with shoulder, neck, knee, or lower back pain and not find a glaring loss of mobility or strength. Maintaining the ability to move should be a lifelong pursuit for anyone interested in staying active and independent into old age.
-Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS
There are many studies that show a correlation between grip strength and longevity, and some of them even show a correlation between grip strength and overall body strength. Grip strength is fundamentally important as it is needed to do many daily tasks: carrying the groceries or a suitcase, opening a jar or a gallon of milk.
How to Measure Grip Strength
A Dynamometer, or a “gripper,” is a useful tool for gauging grip strength. To test, you simply grip the tool and squeeze as hard as you can, closing the handle as much as possible. This is what I would call “crushing grip strength.” There is, however, another type of grip strength known as “support grip.” Support grip is the ability to keep your hand closed around an object (carrying luggage, holding a pull up bar, moving furniture, etc.). While both types of grip strength are important, I would argue that supportive grip strength is much more functional and plays a vital role in many more tasks than crushing grip strength (unless you are trying to impress someone with your handshake). The ability to hold onto an object once it is grasped has limitless function and, in my opinion, is a much better gauge to true strength.
If you find yourself struggling to hold onto objects, whether in the gym or performing tasks outside in the real world, I would encourage you to incorporate some training which targets supportive grip strength. My top 3 exercise picks for this purpose are:
- Farmers walks (as heavy as you can carry for 2-3 sets of 20-50 yards)
- Higher rep (8-20) deadlifts using the fat grippers
- Pull ups (add weight if you can do more than 10)
-Jeff Tirrell, B.S., CSCS, Pn1