Protect and Build Your Muscles as You Age

In 2006, Nora Langdon was struggling to climb stairs... Today, the Michigan grandmother is a world-champion athlete...

When she retired from a 35-year career in real estate, she knew her health was in trouble and needed to do something different. At 63 years old, she couldn't show homes without stopping halfway up the stairs, struggling to breathe.

Then, at a birthday party, a friend introduced her to her husband, who ran a local gym. Nora started going there to try to lose some weight. Within a year, she was competing in – and winning – powerlifting tournaments. She even set a world record in 2019.

Now nearly 80, Nora is still competing and hoping to lift 500 pounds in the squat. And she says she has never felt better. "I feel like I'm 50," she told CBS News reporter Meg Oliver.

Nora is an inspiration in many ways... And she's the poster child for how getting stronger can reverse the aging process and extend your healthspan.

More and more research is revealing how strength training builds muscle, improves balance, and adds stamina back to your life. It also causes physiological changes that stave off the aging process. As you'll see, it's easy to start building strength at any age...

A few months back, research in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed adding one to two weightlifting sessions per week to an aerobic exercise routine meant folks had a 41% lower risk of dying sooner from any cause (as opposed to a 32% reduced risk with aerobics alone) in a group of nearly 155,000 adults aged 55 to 74.

Losing muscle mass as we age is a "normal" process. People who are physically inactive start to lose muscle mass in their 30s and 40s... as much as 3% to 5% every 10 years. This loss of muscle accelerates as we reach our 60s and 70s. The medical term for this is "sarcopenia." (I'm already starting to see it in myself. And so I'm shopping for trainers and doing these simple exercises – included below – during breaks in my day.)

Some early signs of sarcopenia include feeling physically weaker, having more trouble lifting everyday objects, becoming physically exhausted more easily, and losing weight without trying. Sarcopenia decreases your ability to stay balanced and increases your risk of incidents that could kill you, like falling.

Sarcopenia develops as the result of many factors, including:

1. Sitting on your butt: One study pointed out that as little as two to three weeks of reduced daily steps is enough to cause a decline in a person's physique, muscle strength, muscle quality, and skeletal muscle mass. It can also lead to rising blood-sugar levels. When older people are hospitalized, they go downhill fast if they don't get back to moving as soon as they can.

2. Inflammation: Long periods of inflammation – due to chronic disease or illness (like rheumatoid arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or inflammatory bowel disease) – will weaken the integrity of your muscle tissue and decrease your muscle mass. In high concentrations, age-related inflammatory molecules – like interleukin-6 – reduce muscle mass.

3. Severe stress: Sarcopenia is often correlated with other conditions that put large amounts of stress on the body, like chronic liver disease, chronic heart failure, chronic kidney disease, cancer, and cancer treatment. For example, cancer patients who've gone through chemotherapy experience decreases in strength that get worse the longer their course of treatment.

When you train for strength (also known as "resistance training"), your body breaks down the muscles you are working.

That sounds counterintuitive. But that damage triggers your body to build back your muscles when you rest. And your body is wired to build those muscles bigger and stronger than they were before.

On Thursday, I'll go through four resistance-training exercises that will improve your aging muscles and boost your ability to function day after day. You'll be surprised to find that it's a lot easier than it sounds.

And if you don't believe me, just take Nora's story as evidence of this fact. She's almost 80 years old and is training to squat 500 pounds. It's amazing what a well-trained body can accomplish.

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
February 21, 2023