Use it or lose it: Urgent advice about your muscles and your mind

I’m closer to 63 than I am to 62. And believe me, when I tell you, I’m not a lover of exercise.

But now that warm weather is here, I’m feeling a little more motivated. I’m getting ready to start a daily exercise routine that I hope will last into next winter.

What will this routine consist of, you may ask?

What it will NOT consist of is sweating, grunting, bench pressing or running miles a day.

I’ve been looking at some recent research that’s convinced me that this is not at all necessary.

More importantly, it’s convinced me that even though I feel stiffer and less balanced than I used to, I can begin this routine and see almost immediate results. Not in weight loss or rock-hard muscles. That’s not what I’m looking for.

The research shows that a certain type of exercise will not only make me stronger and more capable as the years go on, but will improve my mental and emotional life as well.

And, I’m all for that.

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Resistance training: start now, benefit later

There’s a ton of evidence that resistance training (also known as strength training or weight training) makes older adults stronger. For seniors, the expression “use it or lose it” becomes very real and urgent.

The loss of muscle mass due to the natural aging process is known as sarcopenia.

By age 50, as our body becomes less able to form muscle from protein, we’re losing 1 percent to 2 percent of our muscle mass every year.

Related: 7 simple tips to feel, look and age better

Dr. John Morley, a geriatrician at St. Louis University School of Medicine, tells us that “sarcopenia can be considered for muscle what osteoporosis is to bone.”

Although I am generally healthy, I can already feel some of the signs of sarcopenia affecting me: I tire more easily, and my balance is not as good as it should be. Give me a good shove, and I’m down.

So, how does resistance training help?

The research is abundant on this, and goes back several decades:

  • A 1988 study showed a significant increase in leg strength and muscle mass for a group of previously inactive men ages 60 to 72 when they engaged in a strength-training program three times a week.
  • Two years later, a Tufts study reported that eight weeks of high-intensity resistance training gave a group of frail 90-year-olds an average strength gain of 174 percent. Walking speed improved an average of 48 percent!

But the most recent research reveals that weight training is crucial to keeping not only our bodies but our minds young and flexible.

Weight training makes your mind stronger, too

It’s probably not surprising that getting out there and moving your body is good for your mental health. Aerobic exercise can improve your mood and help alleviate symptoms of depression.

But does strength training do anything for the brain? Dr. Teresa Liu-Ambrose discovered that it certainly does.

Dr. Ambrose is a professor of physical therapy and director of the Aging, Mobility, and Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. She and her team looked at how strength training can affect the holes, or lesions, that develop in our brain’s white matter as a part of aging.

These lesions can widen and multiply as the years go on, severing vital connections between areas of the brain and affecting our memory and cognitive skills.

In a group of women ages 65 to 75, Dr. Ambrose and her team found that those who lifted weights just twice per week for a year showed significantly less shrinkage of their brain’s white matter when compared with women who did not weight lift, or who did so once per week.

More importantly, the women who weight-lifted more frequently also walked more quickly and smoothly.

This (and one more recent study) have convinced me to start some resistance training…

A few months ago, a Finnish research team looked at almost one hundred men and women in that same 65 to 75 age group. They participated in six months of supervised weight training a few times a week.

A year after the study ended, almost half of the participants were still out there on their own, lifting weights regularly, and reported feeling more confident in their overall physical abilities, and more motivated to continue exercising.

Not sure where to start with resistance training? This article from the New York Times provides two step-by-step guides you can download, one for an at-home routine and one for a simple routine you can do at the gym.

Editors note: Memory problems don’t have to be a normal part of aging. You can keep a sharp mind well into your 80s and 90s if, for starters, you eat more of these 14 brain-fueling superfoods and avoid these six memory-killing foods you’ll discover in my eBook, Nature’s Secrets for an Active, Healthy Mind—At Any Age! Click here to get it for only $9.95 today!


  1. Why Lifting Weights Can Be So Potent for Aging WellThe New York Times
  2. Motivational characteristics and resistance training in older adults: A randomized controlled trial and 1-year follow-upScandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports
  3. High-Intensity Strength Training in Nonagenarians: Effects on Skeletal MuscleJAMA
  4. Resistance Training and White Matter Lesion Progression in Older Women: Exploratory Analysis of a 12-Month Randomized Controlled TrialJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
  5. Lifting Weights Has a Surprising Effect on Mental Health — VICE
  6. Association of Efficacy of Resistance Exercise Training With Depressive Symptoms: Meta-analysis and Meta-regression Analysis of Randomized Clinical TrialsJAMA Psychiatry
Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.