The following are excerpts of an article
by Dr. Wescott, published in Fitness Management magazine.
Wayne L. Wescott, Ph.D. is the author of the college textbook
Strength Fitness: Physiological Principles and Training Techniques.
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During the past two years there has been a lot
of interest in the aging process and strategies for delaying degenerative
problems. Although we all grow older, physical inactivity
appears to accelerate the adverse effects of aging. Consider
the physiological responses to sedentary lifestyles.
It is an unfortunate fact that about 90% of all Americans
do too little exercise to receive any fitness benefits. Most
of those who do perform regular exercising engage in aerobic
activities such as walking , jogging, cycling and dancing.
Although these activities are beneficial to our cardiovascular
system, they do little to prevent deterioration of our musculoskeletal
system. Unless we perform regular strength building exercise,
we lose approximately 5 to 7 lbs. of lean tissue, mostly
muscle, every decade. Because our muscles are the engines
of our bodies, this loss has a major impact on our physical
ability and functional capacity. In essence, we go from an
eight-cylinder engine to a six-cylinder it engine to a four-cylinder
Because engine size is closely related to fuel utilization,
it is easy to understand why less muscle leads to a lower
metabolic rate. In fact, our muscle loss is largely responsible
for the 2 - 5% per decade reduction in our resting metabolism.
An obvious outcome of less muscle and lower metabolism is
gradual weight gain, averaging about 10 additional pounds
per decade. Quite simply, calories that were previously used
for muscle tissue maintenance are put into fat storage resulting
in creeping obesity.
The average aging adult addresses weight gain by periodically
dieting. According to Tufts University, 40% of American adults
are presently following a low-calorie diet. Unfortunately,
dieting without exercise is largely counterproductive. First,
about 25% of the weight loss from low-calorie diets is muscle
tissue. This further reduces resting metabolism. Second,
about 95% of all dieters regain the weight they lose within
one year. Because the regained weight is mostly fat, their
body composition becomes worse after each diet.
Most adults misunderstand the cause and solution to the weight
gain problem. They do not realize that the loss of muscle
leads to the addition of fat. They are even less aware that
the loss of muscle is related to osteoporosis and a variety
of degenerative diseases.
Fortunately, it is possible to replace much of the muscle
that has been lost to sedentary lifestyle.
Physiological responses to strength exercise.
Several studies have demonstrated that seniors can increase
their strength and muscle mass. Other benefits from regular
strength training include better blood lipid levels, improved
glucose metabolism, accelerated gastrointestinal transit,
decreased back pain, and reduced arthritic discomfort.
Based on these studies, it appears that sensible strength
exercise is an excellent means for improving numerous physiological
factors and maintaining a high level of musculoskeletal fitness
throughout adulthood. For those who have been sedentary,
it is possible to reverse many of the degenerative effects
associated with the aging process.
Specifically, regular strength exercise can replace muscle
tissue and increase metabolic rate, which is like changing
from a low-power small car to a high-powered sports car.