Two winters ago I was finally starting to recover from the effects of non-celiac gluten sensitivity. You can read my story here. My 25-year bout of chronic fatigue was abating to the point where I felt I was ready to engage in some sort of resistance training. I had been walking daily for 6 years, but I had done little to strengthen my upper body.
As it happened, it snowed one night in January. The following morning I decided to test my stamina by clearing the snow off the driveway with the snow blower. After I finished, I didn’t appear to have suffered any physical problems, I actually felt quite good. A week later I did the same thing. However, shortly after that, I started having pain in my left shoulder. It got so bad that soon I couldn’t even lift my arm over my head. It seems I had developed severe bursitis in my shoulder. It took about a year for my shoulder to fully heal. During that time, I could do no upper body strengthening at all. Here I was in my mid-50s finally feeling well enough to exercise, but now my body was breaking down in a different way.
I Do It Again
Don’t we really hate it when we mess ourselves up by doing something that we knew was foolish to attempt in the first place? For example, we probably know that after a certain age we shouldn’t ride on something like the Superman: Escape from Krypton roller coaster with its 328-foot drop, 104 mph top speed, and 4.5 G-force. Especially when there are warning signs posted like this one.
Knowing from the start that our slightly older bodies might not be able to withstand the intensity of the ride, we go on it anyway thinking this one time won’t hurt. Then afterward we end up seeking out a chiropractor to fix our ailing back.
Sometimes, though, we forget that our bodies are not in the same shape they were in years past. This time, there is no warning sign so we unwittingly force them to do things they no longer can do. Like moving a piece of furniture. Then…oops, I knew I shouldn’t have done that. It’s not easy to admit (especially for us guys) that our bodies are aging, and as such we have to be cautious in what we do. I found this out the hard way.
It was now the following winter, and I was feeling even better than I had the previous year. If you have experienced chronic fatigue for a prolonged period of time, you know what an amazing feeling it is to feel well again. You just want to get up and do everything you can.
So what did I do after my left shoulder finally healed? I went and used the snow blower again, and I did the exact same thing to my right shoulder. Did I learn from my previous mistake? What a fool. Why did I think I could do the same thing a year later without suffering the same injury? Probably because I felt physically fine, and I wanted to exercise. What I didn’t realize was that because of my age and quasi-sedentary (I was still walking daily) lifestyle, my musculoskeletal system was severely out of shape and prone to breakdown.
As my right shoulder was healing, I noticed that my arms were not as muscular as they used to be. Granted, I had lost about 30 pounds due to my new diet. And I was using virtually only one arm at a time for 2 years so it was understandable that my muscles would atrophy somewhat. But my arms really looked like they had lost muscle mass. Was it possible I could be starting to suffer from age-related sarcopenia?
Consider these statistics for a sedentary person. An inactive person can lose 3% – 5% of their muscle mass per decade after the age of 30. This decrease in muscle tissue can become even more dramatic after age 60. By the time an inactive person reaches the age of 80, their muscle mass could be little more than half of what it was in their 20s.
That’s sarcopenia. It’s a normal part of the aging process but can be accelerated in sedentary adults. Even though I was walking and strengthening my cardiovascular system, I wasn’t really doing anything to strengthen my musculoskeletal system. Not only was I not becoming stronger, my muscles were becoming weaker and shrinking. I started having visions of myself ending up as a frail old man.
Good News! Combating Sarcopenia
The good news is that sarcopenia can be attenuated and muscle mass and strength can be increased. Consider this statement from a 2010 analysis of 47 studies concerning whether there can be strength improvement among aging persons (Sarcopenia can start in the 30s, so this applies to you younger guys as well):
RE (resistance exercise) is effective for improving strength among older adults, particularly with higher intensity training. Findings therefore suggest that RE may be considered a viable strategy to prevent generalized muscular weakness associated with ageing.
The review reached this conclusion,
The primary results of this investigation suggest a robust, significant association between resistance exercise and upper and lower body strength improvement among older individuals. From a public health perspective, these findings confirm the value of full-body RE for the prevention or treatment of age-related declines in muscle function, which may in turn serve as a safeguard against disablement.
In other words, if we want to stay strong and avoid muscle deterioration and frailty as we age, we should work out. I instinctively knew that I had to do some resistance exercise; in fact, every healthy adult should if they want to maintain muscle health throughout their lives.
What Is Resistance Exercise?
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) defines resistance exercise, also known as resistance training, this way: “Resistance training is a form of physical activity that is designed to improve muscular fitness by exercising a muscle or a muscle group against external resistance.” Resistance training is also synonymous with strength training.
The ACSM goes on to say that, “Resistance training can be accomplished with traditional free weights and dumbbells, weight machines, body weight, elastic tubing, medicine balls, or even common household products like milk jugs filled with sand or soup cans.” Basically, it means exercising by lifting heavy things.
Who Can Participate In Resistance Training?
Researchers have found that youths with a properly supervised program up to the aged can participate in resistance training. Of course, anyone participating in an exercise program should have his or her doctor’s clearance. The ACSM has an excellent set of guidelines and advice available here for anyone wanting to engage in a resistance-training program.
Those who are infirmed, debilitated, frail or ill must appeal to their doctor’s or health practitioner’s guidance. In my case, I was suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. Those with CFS have to be very cautious before engaging in any kind of intense exercise program because of the danger of relapse. See here. So I had to be very careful of how I was going to begin strength training.
How To Resistance Train
The most common forms of resistance training (RT) are performed using body weight, free weights or machines. Exercises using these methods usually target the major muscle groups.
There are many different resistance methods tailored for different people and different needs. The ACSM gives some excellent information on where to begin. They suggest that RT,
Be performed a minimum of two non-consecutive days each week, with one set of 8 to 12 repetitions for healthy adults or 10 to 15 repetitions for older and frail individuals. Eight to 10 exercises should be performed that target the major muscle groups.
The ACSM stresses the importance of progressing resistance training programs to meet specific resistance training goals. To accomplish this they suggest guidelines for how much weight to lift for the novice, intermediate and advanced persons in order to enhance muscle strength, size, power, and endurance. If a beginner doesn’t have a personal trainer, they can use these recommendations as a good starting point. As always there is a ton of information on the web. Nerdfitness.com has a wealth of information for the novice.
For those wanting to do body weight only RT, Mark Sisson over at Mark’s Daily Apple has an excellent program in his free Primal Blueprint Fitness, e-book. The link is here.
I Start Lifting
I have now been lifting weights for three months. Yes, after 25 years of CFS, I am finally able to start training again. God is good! So far I have suffered no shoulder or other problems. This time, I am being a little wiser on how I push my body. Thus far my physical improvement has been significant. Next time I will share why I started with weights, how I started, and what I am doing now.
Resistance Training Is Essential
Resistance training is an essential component to one’s total well-being. It can be an effective aid in countering age and sedentary related muscle loss. When combined with cardiovascular exercise, proper diet, adequate sleep, spiritual and relationship health and stress management, it might be the missing piece of the puzzle in your health routine. The good news is that most of us can start strengthening our bodies beginning today.
Also, researchers are now finding that RT can provide other significant physical benefits. I will share these with you next week. If anyone has recently started an RT program or wants to share their programs, we would love to hear from you.
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