Muscles Matter

Your Muscles Matter

Keeping good muscle strength as well as length to maintain movement is an important component of an exercise program

Muscles change with age, inactivity, injury or a chronic condition. This results in weak muscles, reduced mass, decreased quality and flexibility. Some muscles tighten whilst others lengthen which can change overall body alignment. Muscle can be improved with exercise. For best results and for safety reasons, maintaining correct alignment, form and technique are important elements to apply in any exercise regime. Muscle weakness can be overcome and improved by strength training. It is important therefore to include a strengthening component within any exercise program. Apart from improving muscle strength it also improves functional capacity and mobility. Muscle does not alter the ability to adapt to task requirements. It is possible for anyone at any age to undertake a strength training program provided basic safety considerations and exercise principles are followed.

For optimal lifelong functional capacity a certain amount of muscle mass is necessary. Otherwise activities become harder or impossible to do. Then capacity diminishes because of inactivity. Muscles have different properties which provide the variety of necessary daily movements being undertaken by everyone. These range from free, easy functional movements to power and strength activities as well as flexibility; endurance; speed and fine motor skills.

Consequences of Weak Muscles (Sarcopenia)

Overall muscle strength changes that occur result in a) Reduction in muscle function relating to general movement involving activities of daily living capacity b) Reduced strength; mobility; joint pain c) Reduced body control and Increased risk of falls and injuries (with bone fracture association) d) Loss of function, independence and reduced quality of life.

Research is recognising the importance of maintaining muscle mass and strength to increase functional independence and decrease the prevalence of many age-associated chronic diseases.

(Extracts obtained from ACSM position stand. Exercise and physical activity for older adults 1998

Strength and Stretching Exercises Benefits

Muscles essentially create and control movement therefore a good level of muscular strength and capacity is important. Muscles have many roles and functions linked to various activity needs as shown below

  1. Progressive strength training can reduce preserve, protect and / or prevent some of the decline associated with ageing and inactivity. Good muscular control increases and maintains muscle mass, power, strength and endurance
  2. Maintains a good circulatory system by working to pump blood through the body
  3. Assists manage specific conditions by stabilising specific joints to retain good overall body alignment (decreasing joint swelling and pain related issues etc.)
  4. Increases joint stability to prevent poor alignment/ postural problems and reduces pain associated factors
  5. Assists maintain bone strength to prevent / reduce the problems associated with osteoporosis
  6. Maintains efficient and effective body systems.
  7. Maintains free and easy movements for good functional activities necessary for daily living and protects against unsafe movement .e.g. lifting and carrying ; pushing and pulling
  8. Helps in the management of diabetes (improved glucose uptake).
  9. Increases vitality and energy levels which in turn improves stamina and general fitness;
  10. Lifts mood thereby reduces depression and improves mental capacity.

Strong Muscles… Exercise Potential

Strength Basics exercise guidelines

  • Always include warm up and cool down before undertaking strength training
  • Stretch at the end of the exercise- each muscle group or at end of session
  • When starting – One set of 8- 12 repetitions is sufficient
  • Consider and apply correct starting lifting techniques
  • Lifting speed = 3 up 3 down – hold position for 2-3 seconds
  • Dont speed up as the weights increase
  • Work on perceived rate of intensity (it should not be too easy)
  • If there is a sub maximal effort increase the number of repetitions before increasing the resistance or weights
  • Gradually progress the amount of weight being lifted to challenge the muscles

In relation to daily functioning, a decline in strength may be more detrimental for the elderly than a decline in cardiovascular fitness

Keeping flexible is an important component of an exercise program

Muscle elasticity diminishes with age with increased muscle stiffness resulting in joint stiffness and the body becoming tighter. Increased stiffness occurs in all joints of the body and surrounding soft tissue e.g. tendons, ligaments, joint capsule, fascia. Restricted movement is directly linked to reduction in functional abilities and there is a marked increased susceptibility to falls and associated injuries.

The overall body can become resistant to stretching. Stretching exercises are therefore an important component of an exercise program as well as strengthening exercises

Stretching – Basics exercise guidelines

  • Always consider and apply correct starting position and body alignment
  • Avoid bouncing or jerky movements (especially with arthritic joints changes)
  • Only stretch as far as is comfortable (there is no such thing as no pain no gain)
  • Try to hold the stretch for at least between 15- 20 seconds at a time
  • Breathe normally and stay relaxed