The Gym: Fountain of Youth

What if I told you that some of the processes of aging are reversible? Specifically, the reduction in muscle mass associated with aging, also known as sarcopenia, can be prevented and reversed with a well-designed program of resistance training and a high protein diet.

Jennifer is increasing squat depth and rebuilding knee strength using multiple techniques, including assisted squats on a knee board.

We all know that skinny looks fine at 20 or 30, but at 50 and 60, it can look, and actually be, frail and unhealthy. Research now concludes that this condition is more a factor of inactivity than age.

As we age, our bodies are less efficient at processing protein, the building block of muscle. In the common inactive desk-job environment, weaknesses and imbalances, particularly in posture and the posterior chain are inevitable.

Combined, these factors lead to the greatly weakened state in which many people find themselves. Strength training is the antidote to these problems.

Muscle mass is a key indicator of longevity and quality of life. Researchers like Dr. William Evans, adjunct professor of Human Nutrition at the University of California, Berkeley, have scientific proof that this is the case.

Increasing muscle mass prevents loss of balance, preserves and increases strength, and decreases metabolism drops that occur in non-active, non-weight-training people.

According to Dr. Evans’ research, lack of muscle mass is tied to lower testosterone, estrogen, growth hormone production, and increased insulin resistance. The reduction in function and metabolism that can occur from lack of muscle negatively affects the quality of life.

My 61-year-old client, Jennifer Webster, is a living example of this. Jennifer began her training journey frustrated with knee pain, a shoulder imbalance, and stiffness from sitting that left her worried she may not be able to get out of a chair as she aged.

“Despite losing about 50 pounds about three years ago, I noticed that I couldn’t keep up with my husband when we went hiking and one knee and shoulder were starting to ache and stiffen pretty regularly. Going up flights of stairs caused me to be short of breath and my flexibility and balance were deteriorating.”

Mobility, stability, and strength are part of every workout.

With encouragement from her husband, a strength-trainer throughout his adult life, Jennifer began interviewing gyms and trainers, ultimately becoming my client at Crunch Chamblee.
We began with a thorough assessment of her movement in each plane of motion, including testing balance and flexibility. I adjusted exercises to Jennifer’s ability level and planned workouts to address her specific imbalances, making sure she is continuously improving.

Jennifer is living proof that it is never too late. She says, “The changes over the last six months are tremendous! I no longer feel intimidated to come into the gym. I regularly workout 5 to 6 times a week and look forward to my gym time and seeing all the other regulars. I no longer struggle to keep up with my husband on hikes. I no longer have knee pain. My balance is much better. My back and core are stronger. My shoulder is still stiff, but it is no longer visibly out of alignment and I continue to improve.”

Her new bucket list for the gym includes completing an unassisted pull-up. She is now working on full-range squats as we increase her knee strength and hip and ankle mobility. Because type II muscle fibers decrease with age, increasing fall risk, we run sleds, work on balance, and generally have lots of fun getting fit.

“I like the way I look and feel, and I enjoy comparing what I can do now to what I couldn’t do, and I want to keep improving. I like knowing that I’m making my best effort to protect my body,” Webster says. “Using a personal trainer provided me with methods of addressing my physical limitations that I would not have discovered on my own. Jean notices and comments on even small improvements which is a boost to my confidence. She is also quick to correct my form or alter an exercise if she is concerned about injury. I know that I am learning the correct and safe way to build fitness that only a personal trainer can provide.”

Dr. Evans says of his research, “We matched the amount, intensity, frequency, and duration of exercise in healthy older and younger people. We found that the absolute gains in maximum aerobic capacity were the same between healthy older and healthy younger people. Essentially they had regained the fitness that they had lost in the previous 30 or 40 years in three months of exercise.”

Don’t think that just because you’ve reached middle age or higher, that fitness and an active, healthy lifestyle are beyond your reach. The fitness industry has largely ignored older adults and this is a disservice. If you are interested in an evaluation, please contact me, Jean Dickerson, at Crunch Chamblee. I can be messaged @jeandickersonfit4life, or text 678-428-2279.

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