If you are a client or former client of ours, you probably already know that one of the main eligibility requirements for VA Pension is that you need the assistance of someone else to get through your day. For example, maybe you need someone to help you dress and undress because you can’t raise your arms over your head or can’t button and unbutton a shirt. Maybe you are a fall risk while taking a shower and need someone standing by to help you up if you were to fall. You may need assistance when sitting down or getting up from a chair. Help of this kind is known as assistance with your activities of daily living.
Having reviewed hundreds of clients’ VA medical documents, we know that the main reason for this need for assistance is due to our clients’ loss of muscle strength. You probably already know that loss of muscle mass begins to decline as early as our 30s. What can we do to slow or even reverse many of the degenerative effects of aging?
In recent years, medical research has shown that many of these signs of aging can be arrested or even reversed. This is especially true regarding the loss of muscle mass (known as sarcopenia). This research has shown conclusively that strength training can slow, arrest or even reverse many of the degenerative effects of aging such as loss of muscle and strength, brittle bones, floppy ligaments, dysfunctional joints, and the decline of mobility and balance. To benefit from this research, you need to go to the gym rather than to a doctor (other than to get your doctor’s approval to begin exercising).
Not all strength training is equal. So you want the training you do to be safe, efficient, and to target your activities of daily living. In other words, you want to engage in an activity which doesn’t require hours in a gym and will the muscles you use every day.
I have been exercising regularly (2 to 4 times a week) for the last several years, mainly with the various machines you see it a typical gym. When I turned 72, I decided that I was unhappy with the results of all the effort I had put into my strength training. So I went looking for a more efficient method. I discovered a wonderful book by Dr. Jonathon M. Sullivan, an emergency room physician and gym owner. The book is named The Barbell Prescription: Strength Training for Life After 40. Sullivan’s gym specializes in helping those of us who are older to build strength as we age. Nothing is more fundamental than muscle strength to get through our days.
After reading Sullivan’s book, I took up training with barbells. Within a few weeks, I began seeing significant increases in my strength and improvement in my balance. I also noticed major changes in my mental state, alertness, focus, and general outlook on life. In fact, I began to occasionally experience what is known as “runner’s high.” I no longer had to force myself to go to the gym; I look forward to it for the first time in my life!
Most of the things in life which we do on a daily basis involve some pushing or pulling movement of one kind or another. It may involve lifting a heavy box from the floor, pushing that box upward to place it on a high shelf, squatting down to pick up something from the floor, and the like. Today, I do a total of four exercises twice a week. They are known as the Squat, the Standing Overhead Press, the Deadlift, and a Chin-up Or Pull-up. These four movements will exercise over 90% of all the muscles in my body. Hours at the gym aren’t required to benefit from these movements and are the most efficient use of your time.
Maybe you think that training of this type isn’t for older people. I would like to convince you that’s not true. In fact, training of this type can have a profoundly positive effect on our hormones, cardiovascular health, increased bone density for those at risk of osteopenia, as well as many other benefits.
Let’s look at some examples of how training of this type can benefit anyone at any age. These examples come from Dr. Sullivan’s gym GreySteel in Detroit. Start by watching this 90-year-old World War II Army veteran. Especially note his Deadlift, which started with him squatting with only a broomstick. Next, watch this 70-year-old man and 76-year-old woman work to set their own personal 1-repetition maximum weight for the three main movements — squat, overhead press, and deadlift. It’s very inspiring. Keep in mind that these are ordinary people, not professional athletes.
Finally, keep in mind why you would want to do this. It’s to increase the quality of your later years. As Dr. Sullivan says, “You’re not playing this game for more years. You’re playing this game for better years.”
We no longer should accept that loss of strength is an inevitable byproduct of aging and decades-long decline in the quality of our lives. No matter who or where you are in your journey, you can greatly slow down the aging process and even reverse it in many ways. Again, to quote Dr. Sullivan, Aging Sucks! Aging Rocks!