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Pump Iron to Help That Aging Pouch

Published February 5, 2015 1:50 PM by Brian Garavaglia

Aging is often accompanied by the dreaded sagging midsection. This is not an evitable consequence of aging.  It typically happens due to engaging in more sedentary activity. Unfortunately, as we age, the tendency to become less active not only has consequences for the abdominal area, but for the entire body. Add to this the tendency for many Americans to eat poorly and it is not so much age, but poor lifestyle habits that often lead to increased girth and sagging muscle tone.

Most recommendations for addressing excess weight and abdominal obesity have emphasized aerobic forms of activity, such as walking, running, using a treadmill or exercising on an elliptical machine. This type of exercise provides continuous movement and emphasizes slow twitch muscles that are more dependent on higher levels of oxygen, placing greater focus on the heart and respiratory system. Also, due to the continuous movement, it typically burns greater levels of calories during the time the exercise is done. However, in a study that was conducted at Harvard University's School of Public Health, the importance of weight training for older individuals may be at least equaling important in controlling one's abdominal girth.

The study however used only males, so whether the same results apply to females can only be hypothesized. The study at the Harvard School of Public Health used 10,500 volunteers, all men who were 40 years old and older. The study participants all had varying levels of body mass indexes. The individuals were monitored for 12 years, from 1996 to 2008. The study participants demonstrated important benefits from weight lifting. Although the study participants that increased their aerobic activity also decreased their waistline measurements, those that had the greatest levels of success were those that used both aerobic exercise and weight training. Individuals who increased their aerobic exercise duration and intensity attained a 0.33 cm reduction in their waistline compared to a reduction of 0.67 cm found among those that used both aerobic and weight training. The study's author Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard's School of Public Health states, "This study underscores the importance of weight training in reducing abdominal obesity, especially among the elderly ... to maintain a healthy weight and waistline, it is critical to incorporate weight training with aerobic exercise."

Weight training is especially important for older adults in helping them ward off the dreaded belly bulge due to the enhancement of muscle tone in the abdominal area as well as in other areas of the body. With age, sarcopenia, or significant muscle mass loss can not only be potentially aesthetically unsightly  as it relates to midsection distention, but it can also be accompanied by other problems such as back pain, leg weakness and falls, all that can be potentially damaging to one's health and longevity. 

Another benefit that needs to be addressed here is that although aerobic activity, due to its continuous nature, tends to burn more calories over the time the exercise is done, there is a precipitous return to one's resting metabolic rate over the next couple of hours after the completion of the exercise. However, with weight training, the more anaerobic nature of the exercise leads to a higher metabolic rate for up to 24 hours after the weight training session. Therefore calorie expenditure continues for a period of time well after the weight training is discontinued. Moreover, muscle is a highly metabolically active tissue, and as muscle growth is added through weight training, which happens among older adults as well, one's resting metabolic rate is increased, leading to a greater amount of calories burned over a 24 hour time period. This all leads potentially to less fat around the midsection and strong muscle tone within that area as well.  

Frequently, the thought of weight training for older adults is counterintuitive. Many think it is only something that should be untaken by younger individuals and athletes. It is also thought that weight training can only enhance muscle growth among younger individuals, which is a very inaccurate misconception. Finally, many think that the flabby and pouching midsection is an inevitable part of aging. In fact, aging is often used as the scapegoat for justifying one's increasing weight, flabby midsections, and increasingly sedentary forms of activity that often prevent adequate exercise and caloric expenditures. However, as has already been stated, these are not natural or even inevitable facets of aging. They are facets of unhealthy lifestyle habits that we have come to adopt. As the Harvard School of Public Health study has shown, individuals that add weight training to their lifestyle activities can appreciably benefit their midsections. Furthermore, weight training in addition to aerobic activity helps to play a multifaceted role on the overall health of the individual. Overcoming some of the major misconceptions regarding age that often lead individuals to accept complacency and sedentary activities is probably the biggest obstacle that needs to be addressed. Therefore, if you want to stay strong, stay healthy, and stay slim, start moving and also add some weight lifting exercises to your daily regime to not only maintain muscle tone in those arms, shoulders and chest, but to enhance your waistline as well.   

References

Pumping Iron Gives You a More Sculptured Waistline than Engaging in Aerobics (Dec 26, 2014).  Empire State Tribune. 

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About this Blog


    Brian Garavaglia, PhD
    Occupation: Long-term care administrator
    Setting: Sterling Heights, Mich.
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