There is something about being post-menopausal that makes it almost embarrassing to admit. No longer young and fertile, I worry about how people will view me. Am I seen as old? Over the hill? On the downward slope towards becoming invisible?
As long as I am capable, I’m not giving in to the shrinkage of body and mind linked to being senior. Although aging is inevitable, losing muscle (at least until much older) is not.
Keeping strong is one of the best predictors of mind and body health as you age
There has been an enormous focus on diet amongst those who wish to age well, which is extremely important. Without my own dietary changes I would not have the health I have today, inflammation and auto-immune disease would have taken its toll. (Read about how diet changed my life here)
However, it is strength that has currently taken my interest. The links with healthy old age are just too impressive to ignore. Diet only will not give you adequate healthy aging benefits.
Consider these studies
In a group of 125 adults who remained active (55- 79 year olds), their immune system worked at far more youthful levels than a similar group who were not active (link to study)
In a study on female twins, those with stronger legs had far less mental decline over 10-years. The study concludes that leg power predicts both cognitive aging and global brain structure (study link)
In a study that tracked older people for 15 years, those that did twice-weekly strength training had half the risk of early death compared to those who didn’t. Just 10% of this group did strength training. (link)
The Bone Clinic in Australia showed that women with severe osteoporosis get signficant improvements in bone density with strength exercise. (Bone Clinic)
Twenty postmenopausal women took part in a 16 week strength training programme, working out 3 times a week. This resulted in significant improvements in metabolic syndrome, decreases in fasting blood glucose, and also significant improvements in lean body mass, reduction of body fat percentage, and noticeable increases in muscle strength after resistance training to leg press, and bench press, compared to the control group. (study link)
In a large British group followed over 6 years, higher grip strength and cardiorespiratory fitness were associated with a much lower risk for coronary heart disease (study)
Strength training makes your body look far younger.
I’ve posted this photo before of Deb, in her early 50’s took on strength training, she lost no weight, however gained significant muscle and lost significant fat (more in this post).
My first powerlifting competition
I’ve been working out consistently since I started CrossFit in 2009. I stopped Crossfit as my body wasn’t handling the intensity well. However I continued going to the gym around 3 times a week and followed a pretty standard strength session which included squats and deadlifts that I had learned in CrossFit. Almost 2 years ago I started following a powerlifting programme (with guidance) to see what I could accomplish. This meant I focussed on deadlifts, squats and bench press.
I was pleased to see, that at 56 I could make considerable strength gains, to the point where I decided this year that my next challenge could be a powerlifting comp. After checking to see I wouldn’t embarrass myself with lifting too little, I signed up for the Auckland Powerlifting competition, and worked with powerlifting coach Carli Dillen.
Not having participated in anything competitive sport wise in my life (having shown absolutely no talent at any sport) the thought of competing was pretty nervewracking. I had to master technique, (getting those squats below parallel) the comp calls – ‘squat’ ‘rack’ ‘start’ ‘press’ without jumping the gun due to nerves. I practiced those at training and over and over in my mind.
I’m happy to say that on the day – all went according to plan. My 9 lifts all got the white lights, and the combined total qualified me for the next level of competition – the Nationals.
Here is me locking out the last lift – 92.5kg deadlift (203.5 lbs)
Full stats: Masters 2 category (age 50-59) Weight category 52kg (114 lbs). Squat 70kg (154 lbs), bench 45kg (99 lbs), deadlift 92.5kg (203.5 lbs).
And the medal and certificateNutrition
I believe one of the primary reasons I have been able to do well (besides training consistantly) is my diet and lifestyle. I sleep well, 7 – 8 hours a night. I eat an anti-inflammatory diet – for me this is paleo (although a little dairy and legumes are not an issue). I’m pretty ‘clean’ with my diet, by that I mean – I eat virtually no processed food, the additives always end up giving me issues like dyshidrotic eczema.
I don’t eat very low carb, ketogenic or high fat. I’ve found eating protein and a lot of vegetables and some berries and fruit, with minimal added fat suits me best. I feel a lot better with carbs than I do with fat as fuel. However I’m by no means high carb, my carb levels, except when cutting that last kg to get to weight are around the same as my protein.
Protein for muscle growth and recovery
Protein is a critical ingredient to both strength gain and recovery. I eat around 2.2 grams per kg body weight a day (110 grams of protein), and reach the 30 grams at 3 meals to provide a leucine threshhold – leucine is the amino acid that needs to be a particular level in order to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. In my observation, many people (especially women) underestimate their protein requirements. Recent studies – one of which was done in New Zealand are showing just how important protein levels higher than the the RDA are actually needed – especially for older people.
In a study where older men were given meals containing the recommended RDA of protein (0.8g/kg/day) or double the RDA, those on the recommended amount lost muscle over 10 weeks, whereas the higher amount maintained it. The researchers note that protein is best eaten at every meal to maintain healthy lean mass. (Article here, and study here)
My own experience it that closer to 3 times the RDA, and dividing this amongst 4 meals gives superior results if your goal is to build muscle and recover well.
(Examine.com has an excellent post on protein)
I’ll leave you with this excellent video by one researcher that influenced me on my views of protein for muscle growth – Dr Donald Layman
I’m available for awesome group talks and individual consultations. More here: