STRENGTH: The Centenarian Life

To live a long healthy life, strength training must be part of the process. We start to lose muscle mass in our 30s and for the sedentary person this happens in their 20s. There is no way around the loss of muscle as we age but to better understand why we must start and continue weight lifting (or what is referred to as resistance training), you must first understand just what exactly you are losing.

If you do not do any kind of weight lifting you will lose muscle in 3 ways: Muscle Mass, Muscle Strength and Power. Muscle strength is very important to our independence and we lose muscle strength at a rate of 2-3 times more than muscle mass. Lost strength means we start to head towards frailty sooner in life. Without strength training our muscles will also also lose the ability to generate POWER. These are referred to as Type II muscle fibers. The later in life we start weight lifting the harder it will be to create muscle mass, muscle strength and for some generating power from atrophied muscles may not be possible.

You may have heard, if you don’t use it you will lose it. That is about as straightforward as it gets when it comes to the loss of muscle mass, strength and power.¬† The questions I always get is what is the best weight lifting program for me? The answer can be as varied as the number of trainers and coaches in Boston. The simple answer is we need to lift at least 3 times a week and we need to mix it up with Zone 2, Stability and Anaerobic Training.

Here at Iron & Grit we incorporate the weight lifting throughout the week in macro cycles of powerlifting¬†(deadlift, press and squats). This would be what we call absolute strength. These movements are the building blocks of your muscle mass development and muscle strength. We incorporate teaching the Olympic Lifts because they teach you how to generate power–these are the clean & jerk and snatch. Even done at relatively light weight the consistent practice allows you to tap into the fast twitch muscles. The nice thing about resistance training is you can also use your own body weight if you don’t have equipment–squats, lunges and push ups are great movements to build muscle mass and strength and jumping squats and jumping lunges help to develop your fast twitch muscles. ¬†

Peter Attia believes weight lifting is essential if you are to live the Centenarian Decathalon life. He lays out 10 personal physical tasks he wants to be able to do in the latter part of his life as he gets closer 100 years of age:

1. Hike 1.5 miles on a hilly trail.

2. Get up off the floor under your own power, using a maximum of one arm for support.

3. Pick up a young child from the floor.

4. Carry two 5 lb bags of groceries for 5 blocks–farmers carry anyone?

5. Lift a 20 lb suitcase into the overhead compartment of a plane.

6. Balance on one leg for thirty seconds, eyes open. (Bonus points: eyes closed, fifteen seconds)

7. Have sex.

8. Climb 4 flights of stairs in three minutes.

9. Open a jar.

10. Do 30 consecutive jump rope skips.

The physical tasks seem fairly simple. However, the sedentary person is going to struggle through these and certainly won’t be able to do some. This is Dr. Attia’s list but you can come up with your own important list of physical tasks that your own life demands and base it on your own goals for your future Centenarian Decathalon.

Remember, muscle mass and muscle strength are both developed by weight lifting. You lose strength faster than you lose mass and you lose power the fastest, which if completely allowed to atrophy may never return. 

As Caitlin our nutritionist recommended, getting enough protein through your diet is also important in muscle mass and strength development. Read here for her advice on incorporating protein into your daily meals: PROTEIN

See you at the B.I.G. House!