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Boomers Should Add Muscle Before It's Too Late

Resitance training in 60s, 70s wards off loss that weakens posture, balance, study says

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Strength training can help people build muscle mass to assist in the fight against the debilitating effects of old age until they reach 80, a new study says.

After that, not so much, according to the authors.

The Ball State University study, sponsored by a grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, found that while six men in their 80s did get somewhat stronger, their whole muscle size and fiber size did not grow during a 12-week training regime.

"We know that there is accelerated muscle loss as we get older," Scott Trappe, director of Ball State's Human Performance Laboratory, said in a university news release. "The best way to keep our muscles from shrinking is through resistance training, which allows our body to maintain muscle size and strength as we go through our 60s and 70s."

Trappe said aging eventually causes the loss of "fast-twitch" muscle fibers, reducing the ability to produce the explosive movements that allow us to move our feet and arms to keep from falling. The concurrent loss of slow-twitch muscles, the large ones found in the legs, thighs, trunk, back and hips, weakens posture as well. Together, these losses make it harder to balance and maintain an independent life.

"At this point," he said, "I would advise people to actively engage in some sort of resistance training once they hit their 60s. From our study, once you hit the threshold of 80, that may not be possible."

A 2003 study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, estimated U.S. health care costs directly attributed to sarcopenia, the degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength, exceeds $26 billion. Indirectly, sarcopenia has contributed to a doubling of home health care and nursing home expenditures to $132 billion annually.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about healthy living for older adults.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: Ball State University, news release, Sept. 11, 2008

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