The Latest on Muscle Strength, Balance Training and Brain Fitness

Every­one wants to remain phys­i­cally active, socially con­nected, and cog­ni­tively sharp through­out the final third of life.

More than ever before, peo­ple in their six­ties, sev­en­ties and beyond are com­mit­ting to reg­u­lar exer­cise, and sci­en­tists are study­ing the spe­cific ways exer­cise affects older adults.

My pre­sen­ta­tion on strength, bal­ance and brain fit­ness was enthu­si­as­ti­cally received at a recent meet­ing of the Mer­cer County Retired Edu­ca­tors Asso­ci­a­tion. I pre­sented high­lights of cur­rent research to inspire par­tic­i­pants to

  • Increase their fitness
  • Improve bal­ance, and
  • Stim­u­late their brain cells.

Here are some of the key top­ics that were cov­ered:

Body Com­po­si­tion – How Much Mus­cle Have You Got?

Sadly, adults can lose 1–2% of their mus­cle mass each year. By the time you’re in your six­ties, this starts to catch up with you. You may weigh the same as you did ten years before and not be aware how much fat you’ve gained at the expense of lean body tis­sue. Instead of sim­ply weigh­ing your­self each morn­ing, mon­i­tor your fit­ness progress with a bath­room scale that mea­sures your body’s fat percentage.

Mus­cles – They’re Not Just For Strength

Mus­cle strength allows you to do the things you’d like to do – walk your dog, lift a grand­child, open a stiff jar lid, or carry gro­ceries out to your car.

But mus­cles also have meta­bolic and hor­monal effects.

  • Mus­cles have a higher base­line meta­bolic rate than other types of body tis­sue.  Build­ing mus­cle means you’ll burn more calo­ries even when you’re sit­ting around doing noth­ing.  It’s a proven strat­egy of those who’ve been able to lose weight successfully.
  • Mus­cles are also your body’s backup reser­voir of pro­tein. And you need pro­tein to digest your food, mount a defen­sive attack against pathogens, fil­ter your blood, and per­form every other inter­nal meta­bolic func­tion. If you let your mus­cles begin to waste away, you’ll have lit­tle in reserve to make sure these essen­tial chem­i­cal activ­i­ties con­tinue the run smoothly.
  • Mus­cle tis­sue is also cru­cial in main­tain­ing the nor­mal action of insulin. Insulin is needed so that your cells can absorb sugar from the blood and uti­lize energy. Most peo­ple pro­duce plenty of insulin, but as you age your cells can lose their sen­si­tiv­ity to it. The result is Type 2 Dia­betes. Build­ing mus­cle strength is the best pre­ven­tive action.

Stronger Mus­cles Con­trol Arthri­tis Pain

Strengthen your mus­cles so they can absorb some of the phys­i­cal forces that affect joints.  This reduces pres­sure on your car­ti­lage and eases arthri­tis pain.

Improve Bal­ance To Pre­vent Falls & Bro­ken Bones

Mil­lions of Amer­i­cans are at risk for a fragility frac­ture – that’s when your bone breaks from a min­i­mal trauma such as falling from a stand­ing height.

You can pre­vent fragility frac­tures by strength­en­ing your bones. But you can also pre­vent frac­tures by improv­ing your bal­ance so you never fall in the first place.

Bal­ance In Every­day Life

You can find count­less oppor­tu­ni­ties to build bal­ance train­ing into your every­day life:

  • when you’re brush­ing your teeth
  • wash­ing dishes at the sink
  • wait­ing in line to buy your groceries
  • watch­ing tele­vi­sion, or
  • what­ever

Take advan­tage of these moments to intro­duce some basic bal­ance chal­lenges into your day:

  • Reduce base of sup­port.  Move your feet closer together, or even bal­ance on just one foot
  • Move to lim­its of sway.  If you pay atten­tion, you’ll notice that even when you’re at rest, your body is always sway­ing slightly. Allow your­self to exag­ger­ate those gen­tle motions.
  • Shift weight from foot to foot.
  • Shift weight to dif­fer­ent parts of foot.  Lift up one heel or one toe and notice how your mus­cles reor­ga­nize them­selves to allow for the shift­ing base of weight support.
  • Lift your leg as high as the knee with each step as you walk.
  • Turn and change direc­tion.  Try walk­ing side­ways or back­wards for a change
  • Stand up with­out using your arms.  When you get up out of a chair, don’t use your arms press­ing down on the arm­rests. Use just your legs instead.
  • Stand with eyes closed. You can also try all of the bal­ance chal­lenges above with eyes closed.

Move­ment Is The Key To Men­tal Health

Recent evi­dence points to the ben­e­fits of exer­cise in many men­tal health con­di­tions, includ­ing depres­sion, anx­i­ety and the pre­ven­tion of demen­tia. There have been more than eight strong research stud­ies in the past three years show­ing improve­ments in mem­ory and cog­ni­tion from walk­ing and strength training.

Spe­cific Brain Regions Are Stim­u­lated By Exercise

Exer­cise has been shown to stim­u­late spe­cific brain cen­ters. For instance, the ante­rior hip­pocam­pus, a brain region involved in mem­ory, has been shown to increase in vol­ume from exer­cise while the pos­te­rior hip­pocam­pus is less affected. This pro­vides an anatom­i­cal model for the ben­e­fit of exer­cise in pre­vent­ing Alzheimer’s.

In other research, exer­cise has been shown to stim­u­late the brain’s frontal lobe, site of high level exec­u­tive func­tion, with­out hav­ing a sim­i­lar effect on the tem­po­ral lobe.

The Ben­e­fits of Exer­cise Can Over­ride Your Genes

If you have a par­tic­u­lar genetic marker – Apo-E – you have an increased risk of devel­op­ing Alzheimer’s. But only if you’re seden­tary. If you exer­cise reg­u­larly, you have vir­tu­ally zero increased risk of the disease.

Dr. Lavine’s Top 5 Exer­cises to Develop Mus­cle Strength

If you don’t have a reg­u­lar strength-building rou­tine and you’re unfa­mil­iar with the prin­ci­ples of resis­tance train­ing, you have a few options.

You could con­sult a per­sonal trainer or phys­i­cal ther­a­pist who can help you develop a per­son­al­ized pro­gram. Or, con­tact me at drlavine@askdrlavine.com.  See if my basic out­line of 5 mus­cle strength­en­ing exer­cises would be help­ful for you.


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