Dread growing old? It’s time to get a move on!

Did you know that muscle mass and strength usually start to decrease around age 30? It may sound a bit depressing, but lots of older people way beyond 30 are still able to enjoy physical activity — even vigorous activity. The key is regular exercise.

Diane doing a trap bar deadlift

Doing a trap bar deadlift

Resistance training like I’ve been doing with personal trainer Andy Wight can help build and strengthen muscles. It can even help people (of all ages) who’ve never exercised. That’s me in the picture — getting ready to lift 65 pounds.

Resistance training is also good for the bones, which, like muscles, lose mass as we age, especially in women. “Doing a regimen of strength training allows you to keep or maintain the level of bone density you have,” Andy explained. “There have been studies of people who had osteopenia and were starting to have less bone density who saw the reverse happen because of strength training — without taking any medications.”

Two more things people can lose as they age are flexibility and mobility. “When that happens,” said Andy, “it decreases the level of activity. It may feel uncomfortable to do certain things, so people stop doing them. If you can increase and maintain flexibility it gives you the option of doing more activities as opposed to walking around with a little bit of a hitch in your hips or sore shoulders, a sore back, that sort of thing. Staying mobile allows you to keep your activity level up.”

Something that doesn’t tend to decrease with age is body fat. Quite the opposite and increasing body fat can put you at risk of developing health problems like diabetes and heart disease. I know, more depressing news, but regular exercise and a healthy diet can go a long way toward reducing your risk.

The challenge is that as we age, along with losing muscle mass, our metabolism tends to slow down and we burn fewer calories whether we’re moving or not. One of the areas people tend to store the extra fat they gain is in the belly.

I asked fellow BDN blogger Jackie Conn, who is the General Manager of Weight Watchers of Maine, what she recommends for getting rid of belly fat.

The good news is that when people eat well and get active the first place they lose fat is in their bellies. The bad news it that even though it’s easy to lose some belly fat, it’s not easy to lose all belly fat because some people are genetically predisposed to carrying their extra weight in their tummies.

Exercises guaranteed to give you abs of steel may work just as promised, but the six pack may never show. There is a layer of belly fat over the washboard abs that simply cannot be exercised away. Even if you were to starve yourself, eventually the store of belly fat would be gone but so would the muscle tissue. 

Some people can’t tell the difference between belly fat and aging skin. It collects in the stomach region and it hangs over your belt, but it’s not fat. It’s loose skin. The more weight somebody loses, the more likely the skin has lost its elasticity making it seem more like soft fat. Human bodies aren’t firm like plastic and as we age they become less so.

We should focus on taking care of our bodies so that they can do the things they need to do to last us a lifetime and worry a little less about how they look.

Andy agrees and said that having a defined six pack doesn’t necessarily translate into being incredibly strong. What’s more important is to have strong core muscles.

We don’t train for a six pack that shows but we do want a functional mid-section. You’ve got to be able to brace your core when you’re doing activitities to help support your structure so you don’t get injured. If you’re just working to have a six pack that shows, it may not be the best thing for your overall persformance or your overall structure.

Diane doing elevated arm push ups

Lowering the bar

Regular push ups and the elevated arm push ups I’ve been doing with Andy are great for strengthening core muscles (they’re also doing a great job of strengthening my shoulders and arms.) As he explained to me, when you’re in the push up position, you may think you’re just working your upper body because you’re moving your arms but you’re also engaging your core muscles.

Let’s face it, as we age, things change and it can make you feel discouraged when you realize you’re not as agile, flexible or strong as you once were. But take it from me, getting into a regular exercise routine (and eating a healthy diet) can work wonders on all levels. Andy told me the number one thing we should all try to do is to stay mobile.

Movement is everything. When we start losing movement we start losing activity. Maintaining your flexibility, your mobility is number one. Also, do something that makes you happy. It’s not necessarily about which exercises you do because at the end of the day, you need to be happy about what you’re doing. So, find something that you really enjoy.

I enjoy all the different exercises Andy has me doing, many of them I’d never done before. Whether it’s slamming down a medicine ball or doing squats or deadlifts, it’s all good. Really good.

What kind of exercise or activities make you happy?

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.