If you are approaching your 60s and would like to shed a few pounds, don’t center your workout on cardiovascular exercise alone. A new study shows that weight training in seniors combined with a sensible low-calorie diet, can help preserve lean muscle mass that can be lost when performing aerobic workouts.
Weights vs Cardio: What does the Research Say?
The study, which appeared in the November 2017 edition of the journal Obesity, involved 249 adults in their 60s who were overweight or obese. For a period of 18 months, participants either combined diet and aerobics, diet plus weight training, or dieting alone.
The results were clear: those on the weights/diet program, lost a total of 17 pounds, compared to 16 pounds for the walking group and 10 pounds for the diet group. While the results in the first two groups seem almost the same, they are not – in the diet plus walking group, about four pounds of the weight loss was made up of muscle, while in the weight training and diet alone groups, muscle loss only comprised two pounds.
Researchers also found that loss of fat was associated with a faster walking speed, while loss of muscle was associated with reduced knee strength.
Why Should Seniors Work to Prevent Muscle?
Seniors who frequently gain and lose weight should be particularly vigilant with muscle loss, since they do not typically regain muscle; they regain fat. The battle of the bulge is particularly tough for people in this age group, since our metabolic rate begins to slow down as early as 20, and the decline continues more dramatically at age 40 (for men) and 50 (for women).
The most important reason for this phenomenon – is muscle loss, caused by three main reasons: genetics, hormones, and inactivity. Paradoxically, we need muscle to stay slim. Muscle is metabolically active, fat-burning tissue. Muscles contain a plethora of fat-burning enzymes so the more we have, the more we are able to burn calories.
Doctors are increasingly warning us of the effects of obesity and the sedentary lifestyle, which can cause some of America’s most common diseases – including cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and cancer. The world’s wealthiest nations may have coverage against these diseases, yet our lifespan could significantly increase by keeping them at bay.
Another important study, published in 2016 in the journal Preventive Medicine, found that older adults who meet twice-weekly strength training guidelines, have a better quality of life and a lower risk of death. As noted in the study, “Older adults who strength trained at least twice a week had 46 percent lower odds of death for any reason than those who did not. They also had 41 percent lower odds of cardiac death and 19 percent lower odds of dying from cancer.”
How Can Seniors Maintain Optimal Muscle Strength?
Researchers at Harvard note that strength training is definitely not only for the young. One study involving over 10,000 healthy middle-aged and senior men, found that those who took part in strength training gained very little abdominal fat, compared to those who only did cardio; strength training led to muscle gain, and, therefore, a faster metabolism.
It is important to eat the right foods to promote muscle gain. Muscle is built from protein. The current recommended daily consumption of protein stands at around 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day, but the American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism, published data in 2014 indicating that older adults should consume double this amount, to stop muscle from wasting away.
Light Weights are as Good as Heavy
Don’t be put off from starting a weights training routine by the thought of hug barbells and agonizing bench press routines. New research shows that lifting light weights for 20 to 35 repetitions is just as efficient as building muscle size, as lifting heavy weights for less repetitions.
“Fatigue is the great equalizer here,” says Stuart Phillips, senior researcher, “Lift to the point of exhaustion and it doesn’t matter whether the weights are heavy or light.” While elite bodybuilders usually go for heavier weights to obtain maximum strength, those of us who simply want to put on muscle and obtain important metabolic/fat burning gains, can stick to lighter weights for a more enjoyable, sustainable workout.
Those in their 60s who wish to lose weight, have much to gain, including better heart health, a lower cancer risk, and a longer, happier life. It is important to ensure we follow a sensible dietary plan and do weights/strength training exercise, to ensure that we do not lose muscle mass along with fat. Muscle is important for increasing our metabolic rate and fat burning, but it also ensures we are stronger and less likely to suffer from falls and other injuries related to weakness.
If you are new to weightlifting, see your doctor to ensure this type of exercise is indicated, and enlist the help of a trainer, who will help you formulate a well-planned workout that is as varied as it is effective.