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In this modern world of ours, with the emphasis on “less being more”, it’s easy to forget that the human body was designed to be active. And, yes, we know it’s a cliché but that doesn’t stop it from being true! 
 
Added to this are the demons many of us still have with us from the dreaded games lessons at school. However, exercise doesn’t need to be a dirty word – or dreaded activity – and can easily become an enjoyable part of your life. Yes, really. And if you need some very good reasons – and simple ways to do this – they can be found in a post we did last year. Just click here
 
While regular exercise brings benefits to all ages, this week we’d like to focus on the ways it can help those of more mature years. In particular, how it can help to stop – and even reverse – age related muscle loss and strength, known as “Sarcopenia”. 
 
 
Without regular exercise, particularly weight bearing exercise, it’s estimated that people can expect to lose about 15% of their muscle mass between the ages of 30 and 80. At first glance, this may not sound like much, but the body is a finely tuned system and a small reduction in muscle strength can have much greater knock on effects. No pun intended (!). 
 
Now we can hear some people thinking that they’ve left it too late to start taking a little more exercise and, if that’s you, there’s some really good news. A recent study at the University of Birmingham found that those in their 70’s and 80’s who had not undertaken regular exercise, had the same capacity to build muscle as lifelong athletes of the same age. Both groups undertook the same exercise programme, with muscle biopsies being taken before and afterwards. 
 
Not surprisingly, this result was somewhat unexpected, as researchers had anticipated that the lifelong athletes would be able to build muscle much more easily due to their long term fitness. However, this was not the case, with both groups showing the same ability to build and maintain muscle. So, it’s never too late to start exercising subject, as always, to a little common sense (!). 
 
As the lead researcher, Dr Leigh Breen said: 
 
"Our study clearly shows that it doesn't matter if you haven't been a regular exerciser throughout your life, you can still derive benefit from exercise whenever you start. 
 
Obviously, a long-term commitment to good health and exercise is the best approach to achieve whole-body health, but even starting later on in life will help delay age-related frailty and muscle weakness. Current public health advice on strength training for older people is often quite vague. 
 
What's needed is more specific guidance on how individuals can improve their muscle strength, even outside of a gym-setting through activities undertaken in their homes — activities such as gardening, walking up and down stairs, or lifting up a shopping bag can all help if undertaken as part of a regular exercise regime." 
 
The benefits don’t stop there, with regular exercise also helping to: 
 
Improve the ease of walking and endurance, ie, being able to walk further more easily. 
Reduce the likelihood of falls. 
Improve the ability to perform daily tasks, such as rising from a chair, going upstairs and carrying groceries. 
Relieve joint pain. Exercise strengthens the muscles, tendons and ligaments around joints reducing stress on the joint and so eases pain. It can also help increase the range of motion of joints, again reducing pain. 
Reduce pain generally, by encouraging the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. 
Improve brain health and slowing down brain ageing. Exercise increases the production of growth factors which control cell growth and function including the neurons found in the nervous system and brain. 
More generally, exercise helps improve blood sugar control in those with Type 2 Diabetes, as well as reducing its risk in the first place. 
 
So, now the million dollar question. Just how athletic does the exercise have to be? 
 
Well, the good news is that it doesn’t mean that you have to join a gym or take up long distance running! A regular walk, with a mixture of gentle strolling and more brisk walking can increase leg strength, overall fitness and blood pressure in a few weeks. Swimming, cycling, Tai Chi, Pilates or Yoga all have a similar effect. And what about the gentle exercise classes – sitting or standing – designed for those of more mature years?!? 
 
Alongside this, remaining active throughout the day makes a huge difference. Not sitting in the same position for hours on end but getting up and moving about. Walking up and down stairs. Doing jobs round the house – or garden – in small manageable chunks. The only caveat is to remember our old friend, pacing, so that you don’t do too much at a time and end up completely exhausted. And these comments apply equally to those of all ages! 
 
While writing this post we were also reminded that there’s another – and easily overlooked – factor in building strong muscle. And it’s all about the main building block of muscle, protein. In other words making sure that your diet includes good quality – and lean – protein. Not only lean meat but fish, as well as plant based proteins. 
 
As always, the choice is yours. 
 
Tagged as: Diet, Health, Lifestyle
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