Getting a start on growing stronger

Building strength and power is key to healthy aging, both physically and mentally. It may be easier than you think.

We probably don't need to remind you that your body changes with age. Age-related muscle loss begins at around age 35 and progresses slowly — at about 1% per year. But after about age 60, muscle loses mass more rapidly, so that adults who don't do regular strength training may lose 4 to 6 pounds of muscle per decade. Moreover, the lost muscle is usually replaced by fat.

Studies show that strength training not only can slow muscle loss, it can also help prevent or control conditions as varied as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and osteoporosis. And recent research indicates that it can also improve cognitive function, especially when added to aerobic exercise. As we age, strength training helps to preserve mobility and reduce the risk of falling. "What has been shown is that if you're looking at mobility problems, the most beneficial exercises that are those that focus on progressive training for strength and power," says Dr. Jonathan Bean, an associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School.

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