They say age ain’t nothing but a number, but there are some pretty startling stats about what happens to the human body as time passes. “As men age, they can lose five to seven pounds of muscle mass every 10 years starting in their 30s, and more as they approach their 50s,” says Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., professor of exercise science at Quincy College, researcher, and author of more than 20 books on strength training. “They also gain about 10 pounds over the same time frame.” Now, some math: If you go down five or so in muscle, but up 10 overall—that’s 15-plus pounds of fat gained each decade. (Not to mention, hair loss becomes an issue.)
As soon as you hear “fat gain” you may be tempted to up your game on the treadmill to burn off a few extra calories. According to the science, though, your time is better spent in the weight room. A little more math: In people who don’t do any resistance training, each pound of muscle burns about six calories per day; so if you have 80 pounds of muscle, that’s 480 calories per day. Add in regular strength training of two or three sessions per week, and those worked-out, in-need-of-repair muscles can burn nine calories per day at rest—a 50 percent increase!—or 630 calories. And that doesn’t count what you work off during the workout itself. Further, resistance training is the only way to reduce (and even reverse) that pesky muscle loss due to aging.
That doesn’t mean you should skip your cardio, though. “With age, people experience a decrease in aerobic capacity, as much as 10 percent per decade beginning after age 25 to 30,” says Tracy Hafen, exercise physiologist and co-author of "The RealAge Workout." “Regular cardiorespiratory exercise, both moderate and high intensity, increases aerobic capacity by 20 to 30 percent, wiping out 20 to 30 years’ worth of aging effects.”
The Anti-Aging Workout Routine
Pretty much any strength-training program will do the trick, though the research skews heavily (pun intended) toward workouts that center on multi-joint exercises—which also have testosterone-boosting effects—performed at 70 to 80 percent of one-rep max for eight to 12 reps, with two to four sets per muscle group, like the “build-your-own” routine Hafen designed here.
Also important is how you do those reps: “For the first two to three sets, count to two on the concentric (shortening, contracting phase) and two on the eccentric (lengthening, releasing phase),” she says. “For the last one to two sets, count to one on the concentric and three on the eccentric.” Microtears in muscles occur more in the eccentric phase, so focusing on longer durations there will ultimately improve strength further.
Hafen also suggests keeping your muscles guessing by varying the order of the exercises from one week to the next; for example doing push/pull supersets one week, upper body/lower body supersets one week, rotating through a circuit another week, doing a pyramid another week, or completing the set one exercise at a time with 30 to 60 seconds rest between them. You also don’t have to do all of the exercises in every session, particularly those single-joint arc and arm moves.
To build your 10-exercise workout, choose:
- One squat exercise, such as goblet squat, back-loaded squat, or split squat (both sides)
- One lunge exercise, such as lateral, reverse, or front lunges
- Two upper-body “pull” exercises, such as standing one-arm cable row or bentover rows, pullups or lat pulldowns
- Two upper-body “push” exercises, such as standing two-arm cable chest press or bench press, overhead shoulder press or military press
- One arc exercise, such as chest or reverse fly, or lateral raise
- One arm curl exercise, such as concentration, hammer, or preacher curls
- One arm extension exercise, such as triceps kickbacks, pressdowns, or overhead extension
- One functional core exercise, such as woodchops, reverse woodchops, or med ball slams
"You only need to perform one set of functional core exercises, as the core is working throughout the workout,” Hafen says.