We've all seen the photo in advertisements: a smiling, smug-looking 65-ish guy in snug blue jeans with wire rims and balding head perched on top of a shirtless, Adonis-like torso impeccably tanned and sculpted. The older guy comes complete with six-pack abs that must merit the envy of any much-younger stud kicking sand at Muscle Beach. No joke: his name reportedly is Dr. Jeffrey Life, for real, and one can only imagine what Life's social life must be like, no pun intended, even though he's now in his 70's and still incredibly buff and, he insists, stronger than he's ever been.
But here comes the caveat: Life didn't get his freakishly fit physique only through proper diet, exercise and weight training. He told the Los Angeles Times that since 2003 he also has followed a regimen – not in any way endorsed by this website – of daily human growth hormone (HGH) shots and weekly testosterone injections, all at a monthly cost of $1,500 to help make him who his photos portray him to be. If nothing else, though, Life's iconic picture makes him an inspiration for men and women 60 and over who want to look good while maintaining a better level of fitness, strength and quality of life.
Here's the skinny, folks: provided you discuss it with your physician, and if you are willing to follow a workout regimen tailored for you by a strength-training specialist, resistance training can be great for you. Age has few, if any, limits. If you do it right, working with weights or other resistance equipment shouldn't make you crumble to pieces in a pile of aging bones and flesh. Authorities no less than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advocate for strength/power training among the elderly. The CDC in collaboration with Tufts University has developed a strength-training program utilizing exercises proven to increase muscle strength, maintain bone integrity, and enhance balance, coordination and mobility. Additionally, the CDC reports, "such training can help reduce the signs and symptoms of many chronic diseases, including arthritis," as well as diabetes, depression, back pain, obesity and osteoporosis.
Consider the results of studies. Tufts, for instance, conducted a 16-week strength-training program with older men and women suffering from severe knee osteoarthritis, finding that the program decreased pain by 43 percent. Another study done in New Zealand, focusing on strengthening exercises aimed at balance and flexibility, found, for women 80 and older, a 40 percent drop in falls with basic strength and balance training.
The American Heart Association is another proponent of strength training, having found that cardiac patients in strength-training programs not only show gains in strength and flexibility but also in aerobic capacity. The AHA now endorses such training as a means to reduce the risk of heart disease and as a therapy for cardiac rehab patients.
All this is not to suggest that seniors should run out to local gyms and start pumping iron with reckless abandon using barbells and dumbbells. Take it slow and do it smart. Check with your doctor to see if there's any reason or you not to be lifting weights or doing resistance training. If you get the green light, then find a properly trained exercise professional to help you design a personalized resistance-training program. Traditionally, the muscle groups to be worked are chest, shoulders, arms, back, abdomen and legs. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) suggests working out two to four times a week, with at least 48 hours between sessions, with an average duration of about 30 minutes per session. The ACSM also suggests using machines in place of free weights because of skill-related and safety factors.
In regard to maintaining muscle mass, webmd.com reports on a research study that found that people beyond the age of 60 must lift weights more often than their younger counterparts to get the same benefit. Says webmd.com: "… Maintaining muscle mass, the researchers conclude, is essential to healthy aging. 'The positive health benefits of increased muscle mass among older adults extend well beyond muscle performance,' they write. Those benefits include increased aerobic capacity, better fatty acid metabolism, and improved bone and joint health. 'Therefore, we recommend progressive (resistance training) continue indefinitely for the health and functional status of all individuals,' the researchers write."
Here's to someday looking at you, kid.