While building and maintaining strength are always important, Mr. Greg Bishop, an attorney in Park City, explains that physical strength is particularly important during retirement. He notes that in 2008, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released its Physical Activities Guidelines for Americans. The Guidelines provided science-based advice on how physical activity both promotes health and reduces the risk of chronic diseases. In preparing an updated edition, HHS appointed industry experts to serve on its 2018 advisory committee. The committee’s two-year responsibility was to analyze the available scientific data and either confirm the original Guidelines or suggest appropriate revisions. HHS then used the committee’s analysis to update its Guidelines, which were issued in November 2018.
The 2018 Guidelines confirm HHS’s earlier recommendations concerning the amount of physical activity that Americans need on a weekly basis. Among other things, the Guidelines recommend that adults should perform muscle-strengthening activities at least twice each week. HHS suggests the muscle-strengthening activities should be of moderate or greater intensity and include all of the major muscle groups. HHS notes that engaging in muscle-strengthening activities provides health benefits in addition to those that arise from aerobic exercise alone, which is also recommended.
Muscle-strengthening activities broadly refer to any activity that maintains or improves either (1) muscular strength (how much resistance can be overcome), (2) endurance (how many times or for how long the resistance can be overcome), or (3) power (how fast the resistance can be overcome). Muscle-strengthening activities include everyday activities as well as activities that use exercise equipment. Unfortunately, the Guidelines report that as of 2016, only 26% of men and 19% of women (ages 18 to 64) met the recommendations for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise. The proportion of older adults (65 and older) who met the Guidelines was also very low (about 27% based on 2011-2012 data).
Involuntary Muscle Loss: Sarcopenia
Muscle-building exercise is particularly important for older adults because of muscle strength and size decline over time. While studies vary, there is general agreement that beginning at about age 30, total muscle mass decreases somewhere between 3% and 5% per decade. The rate of muscle decline increases even more at around the age of 60. The process – known as sarcopenia – will affect everyone who lives long enough.
The causes of sarcopenia are both complicated and not yet completely understood. Nevertheless, it is estimated that between 10% and 20% of people who are 65 years old have sarcopenia, increasing to about 50% by age 80. Studies indicate that the loss of muscle mass due to sarcopenia is preceded by a loss of muscle strength and function. Understandably, losing muscle strength and function makes it difficult to carry out normal activities, which in turn leads to decreased physical activity, which eventually results in decreased muscle mass. Left unchecked, it can be a vicious cycle.
It’s Never Too Late to Start Building Strength
Fortunately, older adults can increase muscle mass, strength, and function that is lost either as a result of inactivity or sarcopenia. Dr. Thomas W. Storer, director of exercise physiology and physical function lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (which is affiliated with Harvard), explains: “It takes work, dedication, and a plan, but it is never too late to rebuild muscle and maintain it.”
Mr. Bishop explains that although any muscle-strengthening activity is beneficial (under proper medical and exercise-training supervision, of course), older adults would be wise to focus their efforts on the seven key movements of functional fitness. Greg Glassman, founder of CrossFit, explains that “the needs of Olympic athletes and our grandparents differ by degree, not kind. One needs functional competence to stay out of the nursing home. The other wants functional dominance to win medals.” The seven primary functional movements are:
Survival of the Fittest
Mr. Bishop suggests prior to and during retirement, muscle-strengthening exercise is less about creating trophy muscles – bulging biceps, six-pack abs, etc. – and more about avoiding muscle atrophy. Recent research published in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences found people with low muscle strength are 50% more likely to die prematurely. Lead researcher on the project, Kate Duchowny, reiterated the importance of older adults having strong muscles: “Maintaining muscle strength throughout life – and especially in later life – is extremely important for longevity and aging independently.”
Mr. Bishop recommends paying attention not just to the muscles you can see in the mirror, but to those that you can’t see – your posterior chain. These are the muscles on the backside of your body that help keep your body upright. They include your hamstrings, glutes, lower and upper back muscles, and shoulders. Exercises that strengthen your posterior chain include squats, deadlifts, rows, and pull-ups. Maintaining a strong posterior chain will allow you to meet the requirements of independent living for many years to come.
About Greg Bishop, Attorney
Greg Bishop is a business-oriented corporate attorney who always strives for improvement. He makes it a practice to only hire people who are smarter than him so that his team can raise the bar in helping the company be successful. He is passionate about living life to the fullest and helping others reach their full potential.
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