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Exercise with weights helps maintain muscles

BY DR. DAVID LIPSCHITZ Modified: January 17, 2013 at 2:49 pm •  Published: January 21, 2013

To live long and live well, exercise with weights.

A cardinal feature of growing older is the inexorable and progressive loss of muscle that is replaced by fat.

An average person gains a pound of weight annually from age 20 to age 60, the majority in the form of fat. But even for those whose weight remains stable, the percentage of the body that is muscle drops from 90 percent at age 20 to 50 percent at age 60. And the decline relentlessly continues.

This loss of muscle leads to weakness and, when combined with weight gain and a sedentary lifestyle, affects gait and balance, contributes to osteoporosis, increases the risk of falls and leads to the eventual inability to walk without the assistance of a walker or wheelchair.

While it is impossible to stop muscle loss with aging, research has shown that weight lifting can increase muscle size and strength in people of all ages.

The benefits of weight training only increases as we get older. Strength training builds bone and muscle — the two things that the body gradually loses with age. This in turn improves gait, decreases falls, reduces fracture risk and promotes independence.

Weight training also improves metabolism, reduces risk of diabetes, prevents depression and has highly beneficial effects on the heart and lungs.

People tend to think of weight lifting as a hobby for the young and fit, but it's more than that. Lifting weights a few times a week is a powerfully beneficial lifestyle change. This is a form of exercise for everyone, no matter your age, physical fitness or medical conditions (including back pain, arthritis, heart attack, stroke or other neurological problems).

For many older people with physical disabilities, the place to start is with physical therapy, where a program can be designed to lessen pain and improve function. When physical therapy ends, continued weight training is essential.

Here's my advice: Do not invest in home equipment. Apart from the initial expense, it's hard to stay motivated when your workout room is a musty corner of the basement. Health clubs are a much better choice. They're more likely to be successful and a great way to socialize and interact with others.

Almost always, a club will have many beginners and plenty of adults receiving Social Security and Medicare. Those perfect (and intimidating) bodies are the exception, not the rule.

Whether you've been active all your life or are just starting out, you and your physique will feel right at home.

Weight training should be done under the supervision of a trainer or physical therapist, at least until you learn the ropes.

Unlike walking or biking, which are almost impossible to do wrong, weight training requires proper form and technique. Perform an exercise incorrectly and risk of injury is high.

A trainer can help you master every form of weight training, including barbells, dumbbells, elastic bands and machines that are uniquely designed to strengthen specific muscle groups.

Many of those who belong to a health club, young or old, tend to lift weights that don't appear very challenging.

Lifting a small weight that hardly taxes your reserves isn't worth the effort. Every study has shown substantial benefits from resistance training only when high-intensity, muscletaxing exercises are used.

In practical terms, this means choosing weights that are sufficiently heavy that the muscle is virtually exhausted after six to eight repetitions of the exercise.

Exercises should involve every muscle group, including those on the arms, legs, back and abdomen. Each exercise should be done as three sets.

During the first set the 10th repetition should be difficult; during the second, only eight repetitions should be possible, and in the final set, you should only be able to manage five or six.

Exhausting the muscle leads to muscle growth and increased strength. It is hard work, but it's the only way to build strength to the level needed for optimal fitness.

You'll probably be a little sore when you start out. But the soreness goes away, and soon you'll find that you feel refreshed and energized and that the effort is well worth the sweat involved.

Want to start the new year with a realistic workable resolution? Don't worry about your weight or shape; instead, stretch, do balance and aerobic exercises and weight train to guarantee a longer, more independent life.

Dr. David Lipschitz is the author of the book "Breaking the Rules of Aging." To find out more about Dr. David Lipschitz and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at More information is available at: