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allthingsnoisy in osteo_health

Strength training can deter muscle, bone loss

Connie Midey
The Arizona Republic

Loss of muscle mass and loss of bone density can deliver a dangerous one-two punch as you age.

The first condition, known as sarcopenia, makes it more likely you will fall. The second, known as osteoporosis (or osteopenia in its early stages), makes you more vulnerable to a broken bone if you should fall. The prefix "sarco-" is a reference to muscle; "osteo-" refers to bone.

But here's welcome news from Kevin Shepard, a certified personal trainer at DC Ranch Village Health Club in Scottsdale: The same remedy has the potential to improve the conditions simultaneously.

"If you lift weight to increase your muscle strength and reverse the loss of muscle tissue," he says, "the effort is enough to also increase your bone-mineral density. You get two benefits for one."

The consequences of muscle-wasting sarcopenia, including slow gait, balance difficulties and suppressed metabolic rate, may be greater than those of its better-known cousin osteoporosis, according to a report by the nonprofit, New York-based International Longevity Center-USA.

Report author Michael J. Hewitt, research director for exercise science at Canyon Ranch health resort in Tucson, cites a New Mexico study that found sarcopenia in 13 percent of men and 8 percent of women younger than 70. Prevalence was about 17.5 percent for both sexes by age 75 and possibly more than 50 percent in "the oldest old," Hewitt says.

But that doesn't mean you should wait until retirement to take action against sarcopenia. Muscle loss usually begins at about age 30, the same as for bone loss, Shepard says, and it eventually can make climbing stairs, opening bottles and even rising from a chair difficult to do.

"By age 40," he says, "many women will have lost about 12 percent of their muscle tissue, and they continue to lose about 1 percent a year. Men usually are about 20 percent heavier than women, due purely to muscle, so they start with an advantage."

In sarcopenia, the loss occurs in the so-called fast-twitch, or type 2, muscle fibers that fuel quick actions and heavy exertion, Shepard says. Slow-twitch, or type 1, muscle fibers fire more slowly, supporting everyday activities and aerobic exercise.

"When you lift a bag of groceries from the floor or take that bag up a couple of flights of stairs, you're using type 2 muscle fibers," he says.

Lifting weight activates and develops those fibers.

People who don't exercise regularly should check with their doctor and a trainer before beginning a strength-training regimen, but the work doesn't have to be performed on machines or with other special equipment to be effective, Shepard says.

Lifting a 20-pound bag of dog food, curling it with both arms into the torso and setting it back on the floor will work the biceps, low back and hips, he says. Taking the stairs, rather than the escalator, builds muscle in the hamstrings, low back and butt.

Don't be afraid to exert yourself, he says. To train safely, whatever strength-building tool you chose, begin with something that's slightly challenging but within your ability to control. Women shouldn't worry they'll look like muscle builders if they lift weight, nor do people of either sex need to spend hours working out to prevent or slow sarcopenia, he says.

Weight training for about 30 minutes twice a week can keep muscles - and bones - strong, while daily aerobic activities, such as walking, promote overall good health.

"With osteoporosis, there are drugs to treat it, there are programs to treat it," Shepard says. "No one has come up with a pill for sarcopenia, so it's up to people to get educated and do what's required."

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October 2008

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