After probably way too many months away, I wandered back into the gym this week — and I’m glad I did.
For last several months, I’ve been working out (sporadically) at home in the mornings before work. Body-weight and kettlebell stuff between 7 (sometimes 8) and breakfast. I don’t have a long commute — 10 minutes max on my bike — but there were days, more frequent than I’d like to admit, when I just didn’t pick up the iron because I didn’t want to be late for work (gotta read the sports section first, you know). And, to be completely honest, flinging around a 25-pound kettlebell after awhile loses its appeal. Most fitness experts will tell you that you need to shake up your routine or you’ll find yourself marooned on some fitness plateau — wandering around looking for the benefits you once took for granted.
When you hit that plateau, what tends to happen is that you lose momentum in your muscle-building program. And, when you get to be my age, good health and longevity is all about building muscle. This remains a mystery to most geezers. I was drinking beers with my brother, The Tin Man, last week after a round of golf (in which, as usual, he crushed me — which has nothing to do with muscle mass), and he asked me what I did to stay in (such great . . . I’m extrapolating here) shape. And I told him you’ve got to lift weights as you get older.
It’s the plague of sarcopenia (significant loss of muscle mass) that contributes to a variety of chronic illnesses among geezers. I’m talking about diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. It’s also a major reason why folks take a tumble at advanced ages and end up getting their hips replaced.
This is not just me talking. New research from Tufts University not only endorses the idea of strength training for geezers, but identifies the mechanism that helps older muscle grow. The study’s lead author, Donato Rivas, PhD, can explain it better than I can:
“In order for the body to make proteins that build muscle, certain genes need to be turned on. We noticed that older people had a lot fewer genes turned on compared to the younger people, showing us their muscles weren’t responding as well to the exercise.”
The problem is that geezers like me have fewer small RNA molecules in our muscle tissue, hence we don’t respond as well as young people to strength training. So Tufts researchers are thinking that gene therapy, nutrient supplementation, and hormone replacement therapy might be the answer.
Not for me. The big upside to going to the gym is that there’s a lot heavier iron to lift than what I find in my feeble workout room at home. And after 45 minutes communing with the iron there, I come home feeling like Charles Atlas and not worrying at all about diabetes, proprioception, or heart disease. I just want a cold beer. Which is not really an appropriate beverage before breakfast.