Resistance exercise, also referred to as strength training, if essential for everyone. Researchers at the Buck Institute for Age Research found that the muscles of older adults were, on average, about 59 percent weaker than those of the younger subjects. There was also a dramatic decline in the capacity of muscle mitochondria to produce energy. But there was good news. After 6 months of exercise training, the muscle strength in the older individuals improved 21 percent.

Resistance training is performed with weights, resistance bands, weight machines, or even one’s own body weight.  It increases release of growth hormone, which improves protein synthesis in muscle and bone, as well as muscle strength. When combined with adequate protein intake, it helps older adults gain muscle strength and size.

Adults who do participate in strength training may experience a 50 percent reduction in fast-twitch fibers by 80 years of age. On the other hand, individuals who do resistance-training exercises can experience increases in muscle strength, mass and function throughout their lifespan. Improved strength and balance can decrease the risk of falls and prevent injuries.

There are several lifestyle factors and diseases that can impact muscle strength. Muscle biopsies in diabetic individuals reveal loss of fast-twitch muscle fibers which may result in an increased risk both for muscle fatigue and for falling.  Diabetes also decreases skeletal muscle contractility, promotes muscle wasting, and reduces the ability of the muscle cells to repair after injury.

Smoking also causes muscle fiber atrophy. It also decreases blood supply to the muscles by decreasing the production of nitric oxide, a molecule that helps them to dilate. Research demonstrates exercise-induced vasodilatation is also lower in smokers during physical activity compared to non-smokers. For some people this leads to a condition called claudication with symptoms of painful calf cramping with activity. Alcohol consumption, like smoking, compromises the proteins in our cells and depresses protein synthesis in skeletal muscles.

So to keep your muscles throughout your life – and to keep them in good health – add strength training to your exercise regimen. Whether you start with body weighted exercises at home, such as pushups and squats, or join a gym, it is essential to perform resistance exercise three days a week for 30 – 60 minutes. Then avoid factors that damage muscles such as diabetes (it is preventable for most people), smoking and alcohol.

Here’s to a strong and healthy life!

Christopher Burton, MD
Christopher Burton, MD

Christopher Burton, MD is a physician, speaker, coach and author, practicing in Pensacola, FL. He specializes in Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, which focuses on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of conditions - particularly those of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems - that may produce temporary or permanent impairment of function. Dr. Burton also provides one-on-one Health & Wellness Coaching for select clients who want to improve their life significantly. In addition to his practice and coaching, he actively lectures on health, nutrition and exercise for healthcare groups, colleges, and businesses, and travels internationally teaching on various topics including the treatment and rehabilitation of athletes.