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Bodybuilding for looks, resilience, and positive ageing


By John Glazer

John has taken part in Dorset Humanists walks for many years, is a keen cyclist and very knowledgeable about health and fitness. In this article, he expands on other areas of his fitness regime and encourages you to make steps towards a stronger, healthier and more resilient body. Are you up to the challenge?


Bodybuilding is a generic term encompassing three different disciplines:

  1. Bodybuilding itself is practised by those who want to increase the size of their muscles, largely carried out by those who, in their own eyes, want to improve their physical appearance;

  2. Weightlifting is practised by a subset of people who want to get as strong as they can; and

  3. Resistance Training is more about staying healthy and maintaining independence for as long as possible into old age.

These three disciplines overlap: bodybuilders and resistance trainers will undoubtedly get stronger, weightlifters may well get healthier, and all three will believe that they look better. 


Numerically, the smallest group is the weightlifters, who often train so that they are fit to enter competitions. This is, after all, an Olympic discipline which is characterised by two groups: those who take anabolic steroids and those who are ‘clean’. The same applies to bodybuilders who enter competitions: some competitions are drug-free, and there are some where no such restrictions apply. Individuals who carry out resistance training are less likely to take drugs because there are some inherent dangers in taking anabolic steroids which are counterproductive in terms of a healthy lifestyle. 


My own path to weight training started thirty years ago when I was in my mid-forties. It was prompted by a divorce which changed my lifestyle dramatically. In just eighteen months, I had stopped cycling and swimming regularly, and my strength and endurance suffered a huge drop. I realised then that, for the sake of my health, I needed to join a gym. Without that sudden change in my daily activity I might not have realised for many years, or maybe ever, that action needed to be taken. 


A hundred years ago, there were few labour-saving devices, people walked much more, they had jobs that were physically demanding and, in the home, people kneaded dough and bashed carpets. There was little need for health clubs and gyms because daily life provided plenty of physical activity. Fast forward to today, when many people will take their car to go half a mile to the shops, we can see why there has been a proliferation of such establishments. When I started going to the gym, gains appeared slow at first, taking months rather than weeks. But over time I started to get stronger and my endurance improved, plus I had more energy. Not only that, but my muscles got bigger, I started to regain definition, and I didn’t feel so bad about looking in the mirror. 


Skeletal muscle (the muscle underneath our skin that we can see and have control over, as opposed to muscles deeper inside the body) is the body’s largest endocrine organ, and it affects every aspect of health and ageing. By acting as a ‘metabolic sink’, storing glycogen from the carbohydrates we eat, our muscles effectively control our blood glucose levels. They impact insulin resistance and play a key role in Type 2 diabetes and associated chronic disease risk. Low muscle mass or unhealthy skeletal muscle plays a significant role in overall health and can influence the risk and management of various conditions and diseases including obesity, autoimmune disorders, Alzheimer’s, heart disease and cancer.


Muscle mass tends to start declining around the age of 30, at a rate of approximately 1% to 3% per decade. More serious cases of muscle loss are referred to as sarcopenia. The loss is slow at first, but gradually speeds up until we get into our fifties, when the loss can be as much as 1% a year. That doesn’t sound like much, but researchers estimate that those between 60 and 70 will have lost 12% of their strength, and in the over 80s the loss is 30%. This will lead to sagging skin, and an increased risk of falls which are a significant cause of death for those over 65 years of age. The news that an elderly relative has broken a hip tends to sound alarm bells, perhaps more so than news of breaking other bones. According to a US study, one in three of the adults aged 50 and over who suffer a hip fracture dies within the following twelve months. An increased risk of death continues in subsequent years. Beyond suffering pain, a hip fracture results in a loss of physical function, decreased social engagement, increased dependence, and inevitably a reduced quality of life.

 

Training one’s muscles to get stronger has so many benefits for both sexes, beyond just improved appearance, including:

  • Reducing the risk of osteoporosis, particularly for women;

  • Being able to maintain independent living into old age;

  • Reducing blood pressure; and

  • Having a more positive outlook on life.

The younger training starts, the easier it will be, but the important part is starting, and the next most important part is consistency. This requires self-discipline, but study after study has shown that this is the magic pill for a healthier, happier, and possibly longer life. Your lifespan may increase with physical training but, more importantly, your healthspan certainly will. (Healthspan is the portion of your life that is spent in good health, free from the chronic diseases and disabilities often associated with ageing.)


A little tip which may help is to reserve a certain number of times per week for training, and then put these times down as appointments in your calendar. After a few months, going regularly to the gym will just become part of your normal routine, and it will be not going that induces the anxiety.


Nutrition and aerobic exercise are the other two factors which play a part. Increasing protein intake is vital for building muscle. Training induces tears in the muscle fibres, and it is the rest afterwards that allows those fibres to repair and get stronger, but that will only happen with sufficient intake of protein. A certain amount of aerobic exercise is also important to keep your heart and lungs working optimally. And lastly, I would suggest incorporating stretching, and possibly Yoga or Pilates, to improve suppleness and balance.

 

So, what are you waiting for? Make this your 2024 resolution for a healthier, happier, and better looking you. You owe it to yourself.  


 

Before & After: Design Editor Aaron has been working on his fitness for the past few years, dropping twenty pounds by jogging, cycling, floor work and weights to build definition and keep those muscles active into older life. There's also a mental health benefit to keeping fit. Use it or lose it - the choice is yours.



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