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Wellness and prevention information from the experts at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing


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Why maintaining muscle is important and how to get started

Fitness training session

Gail Ericson, MPT, C CET (left) conducting a fitness training session at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s LiveWell Fitness Center.

By Gail Ericson, MPT, C CET

In a way, muscle is your body’s engine. The more muscle you have, the better your metabolism is, the more calories you burn,  the stronger and more mobile you can be, and the more resilient you are to illness.

As we age, loss of muscle mass is inevitable. This can lead to higher total body weight with increased fat percentage or stable weight with higher fat percentage. It also may result in weakened bones, diminished mobility and a host of other issues.

People who are inactive may lose 4-7 percent of their muscle mass per decade after the age of 40. This could mean a more than 20 pound loss of muscle for a 160 pound person by the time they are 60 years old. Even active people may lose some muscle as they age, and muscle loss accelerates after the age of 70.

A decrease in muscle mass paired with other disease states, such as osteoporosis, can be devastating and lead to a downward spiral in health. For example, loss of muscle mass and strength can lead to a decline in function, balance and mobility. It can also lead to a fear of moving. This in turn may lead to further loss of function and falls, which often end in hospitalization.

The best way to combat muscle loss is with exercise.  Almost anyone at any age can benefit from exercise with few, if any, bad side effects. A combination of strength and aerobic activity three times per week for 20-30 minutes is adequate to maintain muscle strength and prevent some muscle loss that comes with age.

Here are four tips to get started:

  1. Keep moving and limit sitting for long periods of time if possible. Our bodies are built to move, and staying idle backfires on us.
  2. Pool exercise is an excellent starting point for both aerobic and strength work. It is also easy on the joints
  3. Use simple resistance bands or everyday items like soup cans to design a strength routine for home. In most instances, no fancy equipment is needed to add strength training into your day.
  4. If you are considering starting a strength routine for the first time and need guidance, seek out support. Consult with a physical therapist, or a trusted, credentialed athletic trainer or personal trainer.

The Penny George Institute for Health and Healing offers a host of programs and services to help you initiate, evaluate or progress in an exercise program.

Our highly credentialed staff of exercise physiologists, physical therapist, dieticians, nutritionists, and wellness coaches can help people of all abilities and fitness levels get going on an exercise routine.

If you have health issues or you haven’t exercised for a long time, it’s advisable to talk to your physician before beginning a new exercise routine on your own.

Gail Ericson is a physical therapist with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing‘s LiveWell Fitness Center. She has 25 years of experience in exercise therapy and medical fitness. To make an appointment with her, call 612-863-5178.


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Exercise tips for aging well

By Gail Ericson, MS, PT 

Gail Ericson working with a client at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing's LiveWell Fitness Center

Gail Ericson working with a client at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s LiveWell Fitness Center

It’s never too late to start exercising, and doing so is key to being healthy.

With inactivity, the human body may lose up to 10 pounds of muscle each decade. At the same time, cardiovascular fitness may also decline and metabolism will slow, causing weight gain.

The good news is: Most of this is reversible with an exercise program and routine. Basic strength training offers benefits for adults of all ages, even someone in their 70s and beyond.

The results of exercise may not be immediately visible on the outside, but they are significant. Benefits may include lowered cholesterol, reduced blood pressure and enhanced insulin sesitivity. And, it is not only good for you physically, but research also supports mental health and cognitive benefits. It’s one of the best investments you can make in your overall health.

Here are six tips on exercising at all ages
1. Think in small increments. Some exercise is better than none, and any amount will offer health benefits. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends cardiovascular exercise, like walking or biking, at least five days a week for 30 minutes most days. Adding two to three days of strength or resistance training per week will help guard against muscle loss.

2. Focus on four basic categories of exercise. These include endurance, strength training, balance and flexibility. As we age, balance and flexibility become more important. Try to find activities that incorporate all of these areas each week. Yoga or pilates enhance balance and flexibility. Cardiovascular activities like biking, running and walking are good for endurance. Inexpensive weights or resistance bands are an easy and affordable way to add strength training.

3. Your exercise routine may change and that’s okay. Exercise routines will change throughout one’s life. For example, during the 20s, there is a greater focus on group-related and organized sports, boot-camp activities and group classes. In their 30s, people may be stretched with careers and children, so less formal activities may work best. In their 40s and 50s, many people find a home routine or may explore yoga or pilates classes or videos at home. For people in their 60s, 70s and older, gentle movement classes such as tai chi, gentle yoga and others may be a favorite option.

4. Stand on one foot. It sounds so simple, but is so helpful for maintaining or improving balance. Stand on one foot while you brush your teeth or do other routine tasks. If you are concerned about balance, be sure to practice this in a protected area.

5. Avoid sitting for long periods of time. Sitting for extended periods of time is hard on your body and may lead to health issues. Even a little bit of activity will help. Get up, do some squats, take a short walk or climb stairs.

6. Find something you enjoy. If you find an activity you like, you’re more likely to do it.

Gail Ericson is a physical therapist with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing‘s LiveWell Fitness Center. She has 25 years of experience in exercise therapy and medical fitness. To make an appointment with her, call 612-863-5178.