EXERCISE AND AGE

Exercise affects people differently at different ages. I never gave much thought to how age would impact the results I got from exercise; that is until it did. At age 36, three Lotte Berk Method classes a week – all I could afford at that time — were enough to give me thighs and buns like rocks. In my 40s I opened my first exercise studio, so I bumped up my attendance to four times a week. That extra weekly class made me even stronger and more toned, which led me to believe that I could hold onto my level of fitness indefinitely simply by continuing to work out at that rate.

I’d love to report that over the next 20 years, exercising that much protected my body against aging, but that is not the case. By my late 50s, I began to notice that skipping class for more than a few days in a row left me feeling weak, and that I had to struggle through a week’s worth of classes after such a lapse to recover my strength. When I hit 60, my muscles started to feel like sieves, the strength draining out of them unless I attended class very regularly. Now that I’m closing in on 63, I find that the Bar Method is still giving me great results, but I need to take class five times a week to get them.

exercise and ageMy story is typical of regular exercisers. According to a report by Dr. Stephen Seiler, a leading sports scientist, “after about age 60, strength levels fall more rapidly” in people who strength train on a long-term basis. ”The good news,” he writes, are that these declines “are diminished by continued training.”

What happens, then, to people who don’t exercise?  The study cited by Dr. Seiler found that their decline in muscle strength starts decades earlier, in their 30s, and then accelerates relative to their active peers. The way to avoid this loss, it turns out, is exercise more often as you get older.

Sedentary people not only get weaker by the way. They also get heavier.  A recent study of 34,079 non-dieting middle-aged women published last month by the Institute of Medicine found that over 13 years these women gained an average of six pounds each. A subgroup of 13% of the women, however, did not gain weight. These were the women in the study who did moderate-to-intense exercise for about hour a day every day. Even the ones who exercised a half-an-hour of a day, which doctors have recommended for years, didn’t keep the extra weight from coming on.

These findings make sense when you consider a long-known fact about our bodies. Without exercise we lose on average about a half a pound of muscle mass a year. That adds up, over 20 years, to 10 fewer pounds of muscle to burn the calories consumed.

I’m happy to know that upping my number of classes per week has special benefits related to my age. That is good news but the really good news according to Dr. Seller is that you can begin strength training at any age and make significant gains in your muscle mass. I also feel fortunate that I do the Bar Method because it continues to feel good on my body as I get older. It is so safe and gentle that it’s something I can do all my life to maintain my strength.

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11 replies
  1. Vicki
    Vicki says:

    Burr, you continue to inspire me. You look amazing and are in such great shape. I’m 47, do the Bar Method 5 days/wk, and absolutely love it. I can’t imagine the day I wouldn’t be able to make it through a class (barring any injuries) due to aging. As you mention, frequency and consistency are key. Thank you for inspiring us to look and feel great at any age, and to maintain our strentgh as we get older.

    Reply
  2. Beth Kelley
    Beth Kelley says:

    Thanks for this column, Burr, it was very timely. I also am closing in on 63. I only managed two Bar Method workouts a couple of weeks ago and getting through my first workouts last week was a lot harder than I expected. I don’t consider the workouts difficult, so I was really surprised. Now I know why they seemed harder than usual. It’s back to 5 days/wk regularly for me!

    Love your blog! Keep writing. And make more DVDs!!

    Reply
  3. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    What a timely post! I was just coming off an illness and realized my body can’t just “get by” on the 3 days of minimal exercise I was giving it (usually I am a 5-6 day a week person), but I *need* at least 5 to keep myself strong and my endurance up there. Aging isn’t always fun, but I’m still learning 😀 and it beats the alternative.

    Reply
  4. Kathy Link
    Kathy Link says:

    I am 51 and received your dvds as a gift.These are life changing. I have tried many many workouts but this is getting results quickly and without hurting my back. This is a FIRST!!!I am interested in more information on getting trained to open a studio. The closest one will open in Miami this summer.Please direct me on the how to with opening something here is Jupiter FL. It would be huge here.

    Reply
  5. Lani Muelrath
    Lani Muelrath says:

    Burr, you are so right about this one! I am more diligent too with my targeted workouts, and count on daily walks – often twice – to keep energy and shape in place.

    More opportunities for mastery! 😉

    Lani

    Reply
  6. Kathryn
    Kathryn says:

    Hi Burr,

    I have used your dvds and love them. I can’t believe that you are 63, you look stunningly fantastic. When was the photo in this article taken? I am going to keep it up as much as possible and use you as my role model!
    Thank you again, love your blog.

    Reply
  7. Mary Brauch
    Mary Brauch says:

    I will be 63 in December and have had two total hip relacements. Since I can no longer run, I walk half marathons and love to swim. I started the Bar Method about two months ago and I am addicted. I travel for business so I can do it in the hotel room with an iron and (sorry God) a Gideon Bible for weights. I can already tell the results and am awaiting the new DVD. Thanks and keep thinking positive thoughts. Mary

    Reply
  8. Deanna Tubb
    Deanna Tubb says:

    So inspiring! Having been someone who has exercised since age 19, ending up with a chronic (at times, disabling) illness, & now having reached age 50, I am grateful to my sister (a Bar Method instructor) for introducing me to The Bar Method. I no longer have knee, wrist, shoulder or low back pain! I am hooked! Since there are no studios in New Mexico (my current location) or in the Buffalo, New York area (my soon to be location), I depend on the dvd’s & thank you for including home exercise for people who can’t get to a live class. Thank you for all you do!

    Reply

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