More proof that exercise pays off

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Have you noticed that your muscles seem to get weaker as you get older? It’s thought that starting at age 40, we lose about 1 percent of muscle mass each year. Multiple studies have questioned whether that muscle loss is true aging or whether it’s from disuse.

One particular study compared “master athletes” (recreational athletes who seriously exercised four to five times a week) who were 40 to 80 years old. Researchers measured leg strength, muscle mass and fat content of their muscles. They even took MRI scans of cross sections of the muscles of those at various ages who exercised versus those who didn’t.

They discovered that the loss of muscle mass and strength was not due to aging alone. Senior athletes had almost as much leg muscle as the younger athletes. There was little fat in the muscles of senior athletes. There was little loss of strength.

Which means there’s hope for the rest of us.

Here’s my theory, after viewing the photos: We might not get back all the muscles and strength we had when we were very active and younger, but we can get back some of it, even if we’ve been sedentary for years. At the very least we can maintain what we have and avoid further loss of strength.

Here’s what we get with regular exercise:

• Physical stability: Our core muscles and legs can hold us up, keeping us strong and agile. Without that strength, we’re more likely to suffer from falls and broken bones.

• Calcium remains in our bones, which gives them strength.

• Self-confidence: When we can continue to do things for ourselves; we keep our independence.

Ask about classes at your local senior center. Even yoga or tai chi would be a good place to start.

Matilda Charles regrets that she cannot personally answer reader questions, but will incorporate them into her column whenever possible. Send email to columnreply2@gmail.com © 2014 King Features Synd. Inc.