“I can’t do that anymore”
As we age, we naturally lose nearly 1% of our muscular strength per year (on average) after approximately age 45. This age related loss is called Scarcopenia. Individually however, we can beat this average or severely exaggerate this average, largely based upon lifestyle.
Muscular degeneration and atrophy don’t just happen to people in casts after a bone break. They happen to any of us that become increasingly sedentary as we age. The picture below is of a male thigh cross section. It’s self explanatory.
Our society is obsessed with the thought that, if you exercise, or more specifically, strength train, that you A) are obsessed with body image, B) have too much free time, C) will start looking muscle bound (even women) and D) will end up hurt if you keep it up as you age.
In reality, our need to exercise varies only by intensity as we age, not by its necessity. In fact, studies have repeatedly shown that the longer we continue to exercise, the longer we will maintain our functional independence.
Let’s take knees for example, a key joint that must be healthy for us to remain independent. I hear people say, “Oh, I can’t do a squat, my knees just can’t take it anymore.” Now in a few cases, this is completely true due to cartilage degeneration of the knee, primarily found in distance runners and significantly overweight individuals. But, more often than not, it is because they have not squatted with any regularity for years, and the musculature that supports the knee cap and joint have lost strength and flexibility.
I live in a two story home. I would like to live there until I make my final move to a very small plot of land. If I expect to do that, I will have to maintain my ability to climb and descend stairs. It’s just a fact. Back to the last paragraph, if I have already lost my ability to squat, the next step will be the deterioration of my ability to climb stairs. I will surely go through a phase where I use the hand rail to help pull myself up steps, and then finally, I will lack the capability to climb at all.
But what if I choose to continue to exercise? What if I choose to do body weight squatting exercises and perhaps lunges several times per week? The longer I can keep myself able to do these things, the longer climbing stairs will not be an issue, and the closer I get to the pine box stage (perhaps even delaying that event), while living in the home I enjoy.
So, consider what you are saying when you profess, “I can’t do that anymore”. Ask yourself, is it because of a diagnosed illness (Muscular Dystrophy or Parkinson’s Disease for example), or is it because you have become sedentary enough that you are seeing muscle atrophy set in, and limiting your ability to enjoy a healthy, active life.
Should you lift weights? My inclination would slant heavily toward a yes answer, for as long as you can do so, even though the weight will decrease as you age. But let’s be clear, it isn’t for the A-D reasons above, but rather because fitness is our “hedge” against illness and physical decline. We will all see an annual decrease in overall strength as we age. But we can have a large impact upon the rate of that decline through targeted activity.