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Anti-Aging: Choose How Your Body Ages

When it comes to anti-aging, you have two choices. You can continue the process of becoming weaker, day by day, as your muscles atrophy from disuse. Or you can choose to become stronger and to maintain your strength and independence as long as possible.

After we reach maturation at about age 30, we begin the long process of aging as we lose half a pound of muscle each year - unless we work at keeping that muscle from atrophying. This choice is even more critical as we reach our 60s and 70s and the process of becoming weaker accelerates.

Strength training or strength exercise is one of the best methods to retain muscle and prevent aging. The goal is to cause muscles to increase in size and strength, and also to increase tendon, bone, and ligament strength.

Before 1900, strength training was thought to be a form of exercise that was not meant for the average person. It was believed that weight training would actually diminish athletic abilities and the only men who lifted weights were circus strongmen.

In the 1930s, athletes began to experiment with weight lifting and now every professional sports team has trainers on staff and almost all athletes lift weights in order to perform better in the sport of their choosing.

However, until the 1980s it was still believed that loss of muscle and strength as people got older was inevitable and nothing could be done about it. Strength training programs for older participants placed them on a program of lifting weights that were only one-half as heavy as the maximum they could lift one time. Younger participants lifted at least 80 percent of the amount they could lift only once, but it was believed that using heavier weights for older people would cause injuries or cardiac problems.

In the late 1980s scientists at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts decided to strength train a group of volunteers—men in their sixties and seventies—at a higher intensity than had ever been done before. They worked the volunteers at 80 percent of their capacity — and the results shattered myths about aging. There were no injuries or cardiac episodes. In twelve weeks, the muscles they had been exercising became 10 to 12 percent larger and 100 to 175 percent stronger.

Often women are afraid to lift weights because they think they will get huge muscles - but that doesn't happen to females. What does happen is that the "bat wings" hanging below their upper arms become firmer and less saggy.

Another concern is that they will have to get hot and sweaty while they exercise. But doing a simple strength routine with light and medium weights doesn't have that result, either.

Many people who are unfamiliar with the concept of strength training are hesitant to venture into this unknown arena. They tell me that they are afraid they won't do the exercises correctly and may injure themselves. Others say "I know I should exercise, but I'm just too lazy" or "I worked hard all my life and I'm not ever doing anything hard again."

Why not grow old with a strong body?