|My Grandpa maintained a house like this one in Buffalo|
My last memory of Grandpa Q. was the strength of his handshake just two weeks before he died. At the time, he was mostly confined to a chair in the living room. It was clear the cancer would soon get the best of him, but he remained muscular. A firm handshake can be an expression of personality as much as anything else, but on that day it was a sign of strength, a symbol of his physical fitness from all those years of calisthenics, shoveling, and carrying books to and from the library.
I thought of Grandpa Q. when I read "Aging Well Through Exercise," a recent post on the New York Times' excellent Well blog. New research is establishing that exercise can largely eliminate the loss of muscle normally associated with aging. The typical pattern is for a person to lose 8% of their muscle every decade, starting at (gasp) age 40. However, two studies find that older athletes experience little of the decline that the general population does. The new hypothesis is that muscle mass declines not due to age, but the inactivity that typically accompanies aging. Thus, exercise can counteract the effects of age on strength. More information is still needed: Would the benefits apply to people less toned at the start? Is cardio or strength training more helpful? But it seems definite that exercise lessens the effects of aging on your muscles, a very hopeful thing to know.
This knowledge makes me feel a little better about my Thanksgiving week. As if Turkey Day wasn't enough, we added in a birthday party, and an Apple Cup party (UW vs. WSU...my UW Huskies won!) for a total of three days of me not doing what it takes. But on the positive side of the ledger, I was active. Last Sunday, I played an hour of indoor soccer in a parent vs. kids game. That was the most intense physical activity I've done in a long time. The day after Thanksgiving, I played a 90 minute touch football game, working up a good sweat. I also went for a couple of walks. So I gained two pounds at Thanksgiving weekend, but maybe I saved a little muscle, too.