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Are You Too Old to Pump Iron?


Are you too old for weight lifting? Will weight lifting helpyou stay and look younger? The answer to the first question is no and to the second is a resounding yes. Weight lifting will help both men and women stay fit and supple and might even help you look younger. And, no matter what your age, you're not too old to start.

In 1982, Dr.Walter Bortz,writing in The Journal of the American Medical Association, stated that a number of the physical changes we undergo as we age, such as loss of muscle tone, organ deterioration, and osteoporosis are "indistinguishable whether caused by age or inactivity." He believed that exercise could delay many of the diseases associated with aging, adding "at least a portion of the changes commonly attributed to aging are in reality caused by disuse and, as such, subject to correction".

As we age, we lose bone density and muscle mass. We get stiff and our joints creak. Instead of using our body, we "rest" it even more, starting a very dangerous downward spiral. The synovial fluid dries up, the tendons become brittle, the sinews grow weak. It hurts to move, so we don't.

More recently Dr Henry Lodge and Chris Cowley published a new book on this theme, "Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You're 80 and Beyond". The premise of this book is that weight lifting will help reverse the loss of both bone density and muscle mass that begins to take place as we get older. And they're not talking about light weights, but rather big heavy weights.

In July 1983, Terry Todd wrote in Sports Illustrated that "Anyone who has spent much time in what is sometimes called the "Iron Game" has, of course, seen weight trainers over 40 whose physiques were?surprisingly youthful. Apparently there is something about the act of regularly stressing your body with heavy exercise that gives it the wherewithal to resist the visual manifestations of advancing age?research in this area suggests that men and women of middle age will respond to systemic progressive resistance with weights by becoming more powerful and more flexible, with more endurance and less fat."

In 2003, the Centers for Disease Control reported that strength training "can be very powerful in reducing the signs and symptoms of numerous diseases and chronic conditions, among them:arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, back pain and depression."

Strength training will also increase your flexibility and balance, which decreases the likelihood and severity of falls. One study in New Zealand in women 80 years of age and older showed a 40% reduction in falls with simple strength and balance training.

I don't agree that we need to undertake heavy weight training to see substantial benefits.

The American College of Sports Medicine strength training guidelines say we should start with at least two days a week of any type of resistance exercise by doing 8 to 10 different exercises and doing 8 to 12 repetitions per day. A repetition is how many times you lift the weight or do the exercise.

So start off with a weight that you can lift correctly for at least 8 reps, even if it's only 2 to 5 pounds. Rest between each set of repetitions and between each exercise. If you can't make it to 8 reps during the first few tries, don't give up. Do as much as you can do. You'll be suprised at how soon you will feel like you need to add a bit more weight.

But the goal is not to become a body builder, but rather to restore your muscle tone and joint movement. You can gradually work your way up to heavier weights if you desire, but you will obtain the best benefit by avoiding injury and sticking to the program - lifting weights every two or three days.

An excellent resource on this subject is Getting Stronger: Weight Training for Men and Women by Bill Pearl and Gary Moran, Ph.D. I have the edition that came out in 1986. A newer one is now available. I have referred to it constantly over the last 19 years.

The book gives you tips and pointers on how to set up a strength training regime. There are illustrations of every exercise with step by step instructions on how to do them properly.

You can either learn beginning to advanced body building, sports fitness routines to help you do better in 22 different sports, exercises to help prevent injuries at work or just the principles of general conditioning and strength training.

And you don't need any fancy equipment to get going. Almost all the exercises use cheap dumbbells and weights that are available in just about every sporting goods store. All in all, this is a very comprehensive book on weight training and is especially helpful to those of us who have never lifted weights before.

If you have any disease, injury or physical disability, consult the doctor who has been treating you before undertaking these exercises. Follow his advice on how to get started and do not strength train if he says not to.

Start off slowly with light weights. Follow the diagrams in the book to make sure you're positioning your body correctly to avoid injury and obtain the best result from your workout.

After several weeks, you will be well on your way to improving your appearance, physique and general attitude toward life, while doing wonders for you internal organs and maybe even fighting off disease.

"Use it or lose it" applies to just about every part of your body. Don't "lose it" because of inactivity and disuse.

This article is for informational purposes only. It does not purport to offer medical advice. Consult a qualified physician before undertaking any exercise program.

Jean Bowler

Ms Bowler has been a ballet dancer and teacher, a gynmastics coach, and aerobics teacher and a private coach.

She has a strong interest in antiaging research.

She is the editor of Ageless Beauty, Your AntiAging Exercise Resource


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