How Strength Keeps Us Young – In Pictures

Scientists have shown that one of the best ways to fend off the negative effects of aging is exercise. But how exactly does staying strong through exercise keep us young? The process has never been easy for a non-expert to visualize, until now.

A University of Pittsburgh Medical School team studied forty Masters athletes aged 40 to 70+, evenly split between the sexes. All were triathletes who worked out 4-5 times a week. MRI scans were made of their quadriceps (thigh) muscles. They were then compared with scans of the same muscles in sedentary subjects.

How Strength Keeps Us Young

The top photo is a cross-section of a 40-year old triathlete’s quadriceps. The middle photo is the same muscle in a 74-year old sedentary man. The bottom photo is that of a 70-year old triathlete.

The darker area in all three images is lean muscle tissue, i.e. the good stuff. The wide circular white ring in the middle photo is adipose tissue or fat – the bad stuff.

Notice the similarity of the top and bottom photos. Although there is a 30-year age difference between these individuals, their lean-muscle and body-fat levels appear almost identical. The older triathlete has the muscle quality of a much younger person. Meanwhile, though the two older subjects are roughly the same age, their scans tell a very different story.

I have never seen a better illustration of the Use it or Lose it Principle. The point is: You have a choice in the matter of how you age. If you use your muscles and work to keep them strong, they will stay young and help you do the same.

Alternatively, if you take the sedentary road, you might end up like the unfortunate middle subject, weakened by lost muscle tissue as a result of aging, a condition known as sarcopenia.

It’s possible to lose 8-10% of your muscle mass between the ages of 40 and 50, 15% per decade after age 75.  Over time, normal activities of daily living such as walking up a flight of stairs or climbing into a car will require maximal effort and, eventually, you’ll need assistance.

Exercise really is the magic pill, and the most important kind is strength training. You don’t need to do it every day; just 2-3 times a week will keep you looking and feeling years younger.

This can be done at any age, but building muscle is more difficult as you get older. So whatever your current age, it’s best to start right now.

Want to stay young of body? Get those muscles working!

Michael Wood, CSCS
Chief Fitness Officer, Koko FitClub


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About Michael Wood, Chief Fitness Officer
Michael Wood, CSCS, is Chief Fitness Officer at Koko FitClub, driving the development of integrated strength and cardio training and nutrition programs for Koko members nationwide. A nationally acclaimed fitness expert, Michael has conducted research as a Senior Exercise Physiologist at the Nutrition, Exercise Physiology and Sarcopenia Laboratory at the Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, and has lectured at Boston University and the University of Connecticut. He has been named Boston Magazine’s “Best of Boston” Personal Trainer, and made the Men’s Journal “Dream Team” list of the nine best trainers in the U.S. Michael and his family live in North Attleboro, MA.

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