I am on a mission to get STRONGER, FASTER & more POWERFUL as I age up!
Strength. Power. Endurance. Speed.
NIA-supported researchers have been studying the effects of strength training for more than 40 years and have identified multiple ways it can benefit older adults, including maintaining muscle mass, improving mobility, and increasing the healthy years of life. Learn more below about these findings from NIA-supported researchers, along with their tips for maintaining strength or becoming stronger as we age.
Muscle mass: Use it or lose it
Age-related mobility limitations are a fact of life for many older adults. Studies have shown that about 30% of adults over age 70 have trouble with walking, getting up out of a chair, or climbing stairs. In addition to making everyday tasks difficult, mobility limitations are also linked to higher rates of falls, chronic disease, nursing home admission, and mortality.
A big culprit for losing our physical abilities as we grow older is the age-related loss of muscle mass and strength, which is called sarcopenia. Typically, muscle mass and strength increase steadily from birth and reach their peak at around 30 to 35 years of age. After that, muscle power and performance decline slowly and linearly at first, and then faster after age 65 for women and 70 for men. Those findings come from NIA’s Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA) — the longest-running study of human aging — which pioneered a series of simple tests decades ago, known as the Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB), to track mobility and muscle performance. The SPPB measures an individual’s balance, walking speed, and ability to get out of a chair five times, and then rates that person on a scale of zero to four.
However, such average decline of strength and power with aging can be substantially slowed down by maintaining an active lifestyle. While there is no way to fully “stop the clock,” it’s possible for many older adults to increase muscle strength with exercise, which can help maintain mobility and independence into later life.
NIA scientist Eric Shiroma, Sc.D., has studied the science of exercise for years and is an advocate of activities that add an extra challenge in our daily routines, such as turning a walk into “rucking,” which means wearing a weighted vest or backpack while exercising. He notes that a big key to understanding the range of responses to exercise is knowing how and why our bodies change with age and, perhaps more importantly, how and why these changes can vary from person to person.
“As we get older, there are inevitable functional and biological limitations that can cap exercise endurance, maximum strength, and fitness,” said Shiroma. “Some of these limitations can be slowed down through an active lifestyle that includes strength training. However, it is difficult to study these limits in normal day-to-day life. Studies such as the BLSA are special because scientists can test these limits in the clinic. For example, to test strength and endurance, study participants may be asked to walk or run on a treadmill, or climb stairs, for as long as they can comfortably continue. There are also genetic and environmental components to how people respond to physical challenges and exercise.”
By studying people’s limits and variability, researchers aim to provide older adults with evidence-based advice on how regularly moving and challenging their muscles may help increase their years of optimal health.
Abstract: Loading recommendations for resistance training are typically prescribed along what has come to be known as the “repetition continuum”, which proposes that the number of repetitions performed at a given magnitude of load will result in specific adaptations.
Specifically, the theory postulates that heavy load training optimizes increases maximal strength, moderate load training optimizes increases muscle hypertrophy, and low-load training optimizes increases local muscular endurance.
However, despite the widespread acceptance of this theory, current research fails to support some of its underlying presumptions.
Based on the emerging evidence, we propose a new paradigm whereby muscular adaptations can be obtained, and in some cases optimized, across a wide spectrum of loading zones.
- Evidence for a load-related effect on local muscular endurance remains equivocal on both an absolute and relative basis
- Reported benefits for lighter loads appear more specific to the lower body musculature
- Strength-related advantages of heavier loads on a dose-dependent basis when testing is carried out on exercises similar to that employed during training
- Minimal differences in strength across loading zones when testing is carried out on a neutral exercise modality
- Similar whole muscle development across loading zones 2 -30% 1RM
- Equivocal evidence as to whether fiber type specific differences are seen between loading zones
What can you do now to improve the FUTURE you?
Three Important Changes to Our Exercise as We Pass 50
50 is the new 40 (perhaps, the new 30). We can reap so many benefits from our exercise at any age but unquestionably, our workouts become increasingly important as we get older. Encouragingly, we can perform, compete, and reap health-protective benefits at a very high level well beyond 50. The following three foci represent the most important tactical shifts we need to make in our workouts as we age. These foci serve to counteract specific age-related realities (notably, a reduction in VO2 max, a loss of Type 2/Fast Twitch muscle fibers, and a decreased efficiency in assimilating protein).
- Perform cardio at a higher level of intensity. As we age, our “VO2 max” (a clinical measurement of our aerobic capacity that is also strongly correlated with all-cause mortality) decreases. One of the contributing factors to our VO2 max is our maximum heart rate. As we age, our maximum heart rate decreases. Even proper exercise can’t prevent this decline. Although our maximum heart rate and VO2 max decline, we can still structure our exercise to maximize our VO2 max at any age. Higher levels of intensity (higher heart rate), and shorter duration cardio sessions are the key to improving our VO2 max. This can be done with interval training or steady-state training. It generally cannot be done by going on a long walk or bike ride at a conversational pace. Step count and overall physical activity are important, but not nearly as important as working at a high heart rate for a short period of time to drive the VO2 max. Action: integrate one key interval workout into your week. After a brief warm-up, bike, elliptical, row, walk on an incline, or run intervals, work hard for one minute, and then recover for two minutes (doing the same activity at a very slow pace). Repeat this five to eight times.
- Strength train (and use heavy enough weights to get to muscle failure). As we age, we lose muscle. (Sarcopenia is defined as the age-related wasting away of muscle.) Muscle is correlated with strength, balance, mobility, endocrine function, avoidance of all-cause mortality, and the prevention of a host of chronic diseases. Training to muscle failure (the point at which we can’t do another repetition with perfect form) increases our “fast-twitch muscle fiber” recruitment. These fibers aren’t defined primarily by their speed. Instead, they are defined by their power. As we age, we lose more fast-twitch muscle fibers (compared to slow-twitch) and this contributes to greater reductions in muscle strength and power. Action: train to muscle failure and, on the last few reps, attempt to lift the weight “fast” (it won’t actually move quickly, because you are fatigued. The key is to have the intent to move the weight quickly.)
- Increase protein intake. This doesn’t mean “eat more calories.” Instead, we need to shift our calorie intake from carbohydrates and fats to slightly more protein. As we age, we don’t assimilate protein as efficiently. A mountain of research indicates that strength training combined with increased protein intake aids in muscle strength, muscle mass, and improved body composition (the percentage of our body weight that is fat versus muscle). Action: Aim to intake 0.7-1.0 grams of protein per pound of body mass a day.
Important side note: My observation is, not only do people over 50 NOT adhere to the three steps outlined above, but they actually move in the opposite direction. They tend to focus on longer, lower-intensity cardio: they lift lighter weights (or avoid weights altogether) and they tend to consume less protein. Discover Strength,
Tips to get stronger as an AGING FEMALE ATHLETE
Dr. Stacy Sims is a leading researcher in the field of exercise physiology, particularly in the area of women’s health and performance. She has conducted extensive research on strength training for aging female athletes and has recommended several strategies to improve strength in this population.
According to Dr. Sims, one of the most important things aging female athletes can do to improve strength is to engage in resistance training exercises that target the major muscle groups, including the legs, back, chest, and arms. This type of training helps to build and maintain muscle mass, which is essential for maintaining strength and overall physical function.
Another key strategy for improving strength in aging female athletes is to focus on exercises that improve balance and coordination. These types of exercises can help to reduce the risk of falls and injuries, which can be particularly important as we age.
In addition, Dr. Sims recommends incorporating high-intensity interval training (HIIT) into an aging female athlete’s workout routine. HIIT involves short bursts of intense exercise followed by periods of rest or low-intensity exercise.
This type of training has been shown to improve cardiovascular health, increase muscle mass, and improve overall physical function.
Finally, Dr. Sims emphasizes the importance of proper nutrition and hydration for aging female athletes. She recommends consuming adequate amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats to support muscle growth and recovery. Additionally, staying hydrated is important for maintaining physical function and preventing injuries.
Overall, Dr. Sims recommends that aging female athletes engage in a well-rounded exercise program that includes resistance training, balance and coordination exercises, HIIT, and proper nutrition and hydration to improve strength and overall physical function.
Can an individual get better with age?
An interview with Dr. Gabrielle and Dr. Stacy Sims
Stacy Sims: get better with age?
- Yes. When we look at like the existing guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate activity per week, right. This is exactly the opposite of what women who are perimenopause should do.
- If we’re looking at what’s changing and we’re looking at the ratios of estrogen, progesterone, it’s not the absolute levels, but the ratio of change, then we see a demise in the sensitivity of our estrogen and progesterone receptors.
- We see a change in our gut microbiome
- All of this feeds forward to body composition change to brain fog, to vasomotor symptoms, and then acceleration of bone mineral density loss, and lean mass loss.
- Let’s put in interventions that will actually stress the body and create adaptations the way these hormones used to help us.
- We look at the polarized training effect.
- We want to do super high intensity work for metabolic control and creating some longer term epigenetic changes within the muscle so that we aren’t necessarily reliant so much on insulin, especially as we start to become more insulin resistant.
- Look at how the central nervous system affects our strength and power.
- If we’re looking at resistance training and we’re looking at lifting heavy loads, it’s all about the central nervous system effect, because estrogen not only stimulates the basal cell of the satellite cell of the muscle itself for muscle protein synthesis -it’s also responsible for how strong the muscle contraction is.
- When we start to have changes in that estrogen concentration and changes in progesterone, the first thing that goes is strength and power, and then we start losing lean mass.
- So if we look at lifting heavy loads, it’s essential nervous system response that now the body’s like, I don’t care.
- We don’t have estrogen. I have to lift this load.
- W need to have a faster nerve signaling,
- We need to have to have more acetylcholine to depolarize that muscle and have a very strong muscle contraction = adaptive stress.
- Then we don’t have to worry so much about not having estrogen to create that power and that strength, we have to look at that central nervous system response.
So if we go back to that 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity with a couple of days of resistance training, they’re not giving the whole, whole the story from.
What happens with women, because if we’re in that modern intensity exercise, it’s not a hard enough stress to create adaptive responses, but it is hard enough to raise cortisol.
And when women are in perimenopause, we’re already in that sympathetic drive, and we already have an elevation of baseline cortisol.
If we do things to instigate more, then we’re not going to get any kind of body composition change.
If we’re looking at the resistance training, they just say 10 to 12 exercises, but they don’t talk about load rep sets, any of that.
Then there’s been some really interesting studies that have come out in the past six months looking at women who were in the 70 to 80 year bracket and they’ve changed up the traditional 10 to 12 reps of lighter weight and put in the five to seven reps of heavier load heavy for them. They increased their power, lean mass, strength, and had better appropriate reception for falls prevention.
How do you get stronger after menopause?
Heavy lifting. Sprint training. Plyometrics. They all have one thing in common—they’re essential for menopausal health and performance.
Society has taught women to devalue their power. That’s especially true during menopause when we’re told it’s time to slow down and are pointed to the cultural sidelines. Thankfully, that’s changing now that everyone from Oprah to Abby Wambach are putting menopause in the spotlight and trying to create an empowering culture. My goal is to also help women maintain their actual physical power on the playing field, whatever that may be. That means turning down the volume and turning up the intensity.
To be clear, power is different from strength. Strength is your ability to exert force to overcome resistance, like lifting a barbell off a rack. Power includes speed; it’s the force you can generate in a short amount of time. Both are important. But if you want to keep kicking ass as you age, power is key.
In fact, a meta-analysis released earlier this week compared traditional strength training (lifting relatively slowly) with power training (lifting with speed) and found that power training may be superior for improving physical function in healthy older adults. That makes sense because, as the researchers note, power fades more rapidly than strength as we age. And the ability to react and exert force quickly is going to be more helpful for preventing falls and improving function than strength alone.
How Menopausal Women Can Improve Power
In my book (and literally now in my actual book, Next Level) there are three pillars of training that are essential for power: heavy lifting (so you maximize your strength); plyometrics (training your muscles to detonate on-demand explosively), and sprint interval training (applying that strength to speed). Each of them is especially good for women in the menopausal transition and beyond.
Lifting Heavy Sh*t.
During menopause we lose the strength-building stimulus from estrogen. Estrogen is essential for regulating satellite cell function
in females; it helps us regenerate muscle stem cells (also known as satellite cells, because they appear to orbit the muscle fiber cells), which help us maintain our muscles.
When scientists take estrogen from animals in the lab, their ability to regenerate these cells drops by up to 60 percent.
The same is true in women during menopause–estrogen levels are linked to the number of satellite cells.
Resistance training is the best way to generate those muscle-making cells, and lifting heavy provides the strength-building stimulus you need as estrogen declines.
Heavy lifting is also good for improving fat-burning metabolism, building bones, and maintaining your cardiovascular health.
Aim for 3 to 5 sets of 6 or fewer reps with full rest (i.e. 2 to 5 minutes) between sets.
Form is everything.
You should be able to complete every rep with good form. When you can’t, you’re done.
Heavy lifting is best done on “big lifts” like deadlifts, squats, lunges, and other Olympic lifts that spread the force out among your major muscles, connective tissues, and joints.
Whether you jump, hop, or bound, plyometrics gives your bones and muscles the extra stimulus that comes when you push off against gravity and land back down. It is those impacts—big or small—that generate important physiological changes. For one, they help build bone, which we lose during the menopause transition. Plyometrics also trigger epigenetic changes, or changes in your genes. When you do plyometrics, you wake up some otherwise very quiet genes inside your muscle cells that stimulate those cells to improve power and even the composition of the muscle itself in a way that improves the integrity of the muscle, its contractile strength, and its response and reaction time. They also improve your mitochondria function and insulin sensitivity—both of which are important for menopausal women.
You can start with a simple squat jump: stand with feet wider than shoulder-width, feet turned out a little. Extend your arms straight in front of you. Squat down, extending your arms behind you, until your butt drops below knee level. Quickly extend your legs and jump into the air. Land softly, immediately dropping into another squat. Repeat 8 to 10 times. Start with one set. Work up to two.
Sprint Interval Training
If you want to maintain your top end, you need to train your top end. That’s especially true during the menopause transition. The best type of high-intensity interval training for menopausal women is super short, sharp sprint-style intervals lasting about 30 seconds or less. When you extend intervals past 60 seconds, you can get greater increases in the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is good for a surge of energy, but you don’t want those stress-hormone levels to stay elevated longer than necessary to get the job done, especially in menopause when cortisol can already be elevated. With sprint intervals, you still get the benefits–improved insulin sensitivity, stronger mitochondria, improved fat burning (especially deep visceral fat), and an ever-important boost of growth hormone after you finish! Tabatas are a simple way to add intensity to any exercise: After a warm-up, push as hard as possible for 20 seconds. Recover for 10 seconds. Repeat 6 to 8 times. Rest 5 minutes, and work up to repeating 2 to 3 more rounds.
How can you gain more strength now?
Building Muscle After Menopause Takes Focus
Without consciously paying attention to preserving muscle at least, and gaining muscle at best, you may have “exercised” but without measurable results.
That brings me to something we have to first address… measuring. I’ll link to three unique smart scales to choose from. I believe everyone should have one at home. Weight is inconclusive and can lead you to believe you’re making positive change. In fact, weight loss that is a high percent of muscle is a detriment to your metabolism and ability to burn fat.
To gain muscle postmenopausal (and better yet, during or before so you’re simply adjusting your dose of exercise as you proceed through menopause) you have 5 ingredients. These 5 items are crucial and… it’s like love, faith, and charity.. the greatest of these is… See if you can guess.
11) Lift weights
2) Eat protein
3) Take EAA
5) Recovery between sets, workouts, stressors
1. Lift Weights
- To muscular temporary fatigue
- Multiple sets
- Heavy is best, but if you’re limited by conditions or joints, light and more reps
More is not better. Hearing people say, I lift weights every day or 4 days a week, is not a good thing. In midlife and beyond the need for recovery ramps up as quickly as does the need for a stimulus that surpasses what younger you needed.2. Eat your ideal body weight in pounds in grams of protein a day.
- Dosed in at least 30 grams of protein each meal or snack
- Bookend your workouts and continue consciously boosting for 24 hours after
- Exercise fed
3. If you’re not getting adequate dietary protein…
…supplementing with EAA is a logical first next step. To reduce confusion on supplementation, BCAA and EAA are not the same. A select few amino acids are classified as BCAA. If you’re supplementing because you’re not consuming enough through food alone, you need all of the EAAs, not just BCAA.
If you’re of body builder status, eating protein around the clock, hitting your number with high quality protein, then supplementing with BCAA may be something you want to consider.
The one amino acid that seems to always outweigh others for muscle gain is leucine. While you can get adequate leucine in meals (at least 2.5 ideal and at least 5g/day) if you’re eating animal-based protein, it’s not reasonable to expect you will with plant sources alone or even heavily reliant on plant sources.
4. Sleep is queen of recovery
If you’re not sleeping well, your cortisol, testosterone, and growth hormone levels all suffer. These are a part of your team for muscle building.
Cortisol acts to break down muscle. After a single night of sleep deprivation, your body is working against you. If you’re a push hard through no matter how you feel woman…. It’s likely worse. Chronic cortisol issues, whether high or too low are not the Goldilocks you need.
Testosterone and Growth Hormone are both crucial hormones for muscle growth (or preservation). They’re released in deepest cycles of sleep. So, you’re woken up regularly by menopause, low blood sugar, an aging dog, teenagers, or a snoring partner? You’ve got to take steps to solve this one. Whether that’s sleep apnea machine, a different bedroom, select nights when you can catch up on sleep or it’s a focused menopause sleep plan, make it a priority.
5. Recovery, or Rest, Occurs in multiple places:
- Between sets (even repetitions)
- Between workouts
- Between all stressors
The Mental Game of Building Muscle After Menopause vs Losing Weight
Flipping 50 offers a 12-week strength training program built for women in menopause. Nowhere in the description of it does it promise weight loss. However, there usually is a change of body composition and of inches, even if not in weight. Yet occasionally a woman will say, because of decades of conditioning that exercise burns calories and the reason to do it is weight loss, will say, “I haven’t lost any weight, even though I feel stronger and my clothes fit differently. A little disappointed.”
I want to point out that this is both ridiculous, and not your fault. The positive changes are minimized and the power of a number on a scale giving false indication of fleeting success takes over.
It will take time, perhaps a lifetime, if you let it and don’t decide to change it. I have worked with clients who are stuck with the way they think about themselves and don’t even choose to change it but can’t understand by thinking of themselves the same way, they can never change their results. Your mind is the biggest asset or obstacle you have. Deciding to change it and work through that resistance is the heaviest and most important lifting you will EVER do.
Your mind is the biggest asset or obstacle you have. Deciding to change it and work through that resistance is the heaviest and most important lifting you will EVER do.
-Debra Atkinson, 38-year Women’s Health Coach, Founder of Flipping 50®