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Health Information Staying Young, Putting on Muscle

We'd like for you to add a little weight to your life. No, not around your middle. Instead, you should consider adding some weight and resistance to your exercise routine. We often hear about losing bone mass as we age, but were you aware that we also begin to lose muscle mass?

Osteopenia is the loss of bone; as it progresses, it becomes osteoporosis, where the bones become porous and fragile. A similar process of deterioration occurs with muscle. Sarcopenia refers to the loss of lean muscle mass as we age. Good nutrition, along with regular strength training and resistance exercise, can fight both the loss of bone mass and lean muscle mass.

"As they say, 'use it or lose it'," says Susie Rockway, PhD, CNS, assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Nutrition at Rush. "This is really true of lean muscle mass and strength." She is currently conducting a study in older women to build muscle mass via resistance training and dietary supplements.

As we age, the proportions of fat and muscle in the body starts to change. We begin to put on more fat, while losing lean muscle mass. And you may not notice a change in body weight when you stand on the scale--thus, doctors often don't diagnose this condition. "While some of this process is a natural part of aging, I don't think that the rapid declines we see are necessarily 'natural,'" says Rockway. "A little bit of daily effort can not only slow this process, in many cases, it may reverse it."

Recent studies have found older adults may experience the following benefits by incorporating strength training into their weekly routine:

  • Stronger bone
  • Improved balance
  • Improved coordination
  • More ease in getting around (increase mobility)
  • Help maintaining a healthy weight (If you're not sure where you stand, check out your weight using our weight chart and BMI calculator.)
  • Increased control of blood sugar, even for those with diabetes
  • Improved sleep
  • Help with mood problems
  • Reduced signs and symptoms of:
    • Arthritis
    • Back pain
    • Depression
    • Diabetes
    • Obesity
    • Osteoporosis
    • Menopause symptoms

"Losing strength can get to the point (when you're older) where you can't even open a jar of peanut butter," says Rockway. "With just a little effort, you can reverse this process of deteriorating strength. It's like turning back the clock."

As you add muscle with weight-bearing and resistance exercises, your body not only gets stronger, it becomes more efficient. "All kinds of positive things happen to your body when you increase muscle and decrease the fat in your body," notes Rockway. "For one thing, the more lean muscle you have, the better you look and feel, and your body is more efficient at burning calories--so you can eat more without gaining weight! It's a winning proposition.

"We are working on a study right now that is looking at how supplementing the diet with conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) might help make the resistance exercise process more efficient," says Rockway. CLA is a natural occurring fatty acid derived from meat and dairy products. CLA is available as a supplement and is made by gently converting linoleic acid in safflower oil. "Our hope is that supplementing the diet with CLA will increase the gains of exercise and encourage people to stay with their weekly routines."

Rockway and other experts caution that you should not do strength training exercises every day. While it's safe to do daily cardiovascular workouts, you should only do strength training or resistance exercises two to three times a week with a day of rest in between, so that your muscles can recover.

Check with your doctor before you begin any new exercise routine.

If you are a woman who's 40 or older and interested in being part of Dr. Rockway's study, please phone the Clinical Nutrition office at (312) 942-5926 or Dr. Rockway at 312-942-4401.

More Information at Your Fingertips:

  • For more information about nutritional services at Rush visit our Food and Nutritional Services home page.
  • Looking for a dietitian? Call (312) 942-DIET (942-3438).
  • Looking for a doctor? Call toll free: 888 352-RUSH (7874)

Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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