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  See if my basic out­line of 5 mus­cle strength­en­ing exer­cis­es would be help­ful for you.


Deepen Your Body of Knowledge

What exer­cise builds mus­cle mass the quick­est?


About Ronald Lavine, D.C.

Dr. Lavine has more than thirty years' experience helping patients alleviate pain and restore health using diverse, scientifically-based manual therapy and therapeutic exercise and alignment methods.

His website,, provides more information about his approach.

Please contact him at or at 212-400-9663.

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