Muscle Mass, Strength Training and Testosterone
Both men and women need testosterone. In men, it’s our primary sex hormone. Women need it for all the things men do, but in much smaller amounts. (A man makes about 20 times more testosterone than a woman does.)
We all need it for boosting energy, keeping the bones strong (preventing osteoporosis), supporting immune function, enhancing libido and even keeping our mood elevated.
And, like our other sex hormones, it begins an almost imperceptible decline in our 30’s by about 1% a year. Because of the slow rate of decent, most people don’t notice the symptoms of low testosterone util their late 40’s or 50’s.
Men go through their own version of the female menopause - referred to as andropause or androgen deficiency of the aging male (ADAM). Andropause describes the age-related changes in testosterone levels. (A woman’s testosterone also falls during the course of menopause.)
Loss of testosterone leads to a collection of significant signs and symptoms. These include:
Osteoporosis (loss of bone mass)
FatigueMood changes (irritability, depression, sadness, low motivation)
Decreased libido and erectile dysfunction
Sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass)
Perhaps the greatest threat to health from the above is sarcopenia.
Left unchecked, a person can lose 3%-5% of their muscle mass per decade, or about 30% over their lifetime. Along with loss of muscle comes the retention of fat - so as we age, we lose lean body mass (muscle) and gain fat mass. Meaning, we get weaker and fatter.
This is a recipe for not only musculoskeletal problems (less mobility, strength, and coordination, greater risk of falls and fractures, but also metabolic issues like insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome.
And while all of this is a ‘normal’ aspect of aging, it can also be prevented to a great extent.
How? By incorporating regular strength training into a fitness regimen.
Cardiovascular exercise is important as well, but exercise needs to be more than a walk around the park. Strength training is a vital component of an exercise program and should be incorporated as 50% (the other 50% being cardiovascular-specific exercise) into everyone’s training regimen.
Skeletal muscles thrive on stress and strength training is essentially stress on the muscle.
When we perform strength training exercises, the stress on the musculature stimulates growth. With growth comes increased strength, power and stamina.
With the addition of strength training, we see some impressive hormonal-based changes as well. Metabolically active muscle (muscles that are exercised!) release insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), a hormone that stimulates protein synthesis (growth of muscle) and improves insulin metabolism (increases insulin sensitivity).
This means the muscle tissue becomes more efficient at absorbing and utilizing nutritional fuel (carbohydrates).
Strength-trained muscle continue to utilize energy (burn calories) beyond the specific time of exercise. This provides an additional bonus effect of strength training in that the muscle consume calories throughout the day, increasing weight loss.
In addition, strength training can also bolster waning testosterone levels (in both sexes). Numerous studies have demonstrated acute elevations in testosterone immediately following a strength training session lasting up to 45 minutes, while other studies have shown that a strength-based training program will improve baseline testosterone levels across all ages; granted this effect is amplified in younger adults, the effect is still evident in study subjects into their 70’s.
Prescription testosterone supplementation is a widely accepted method for raising testosterone levels, however it doesn’t automatically increase muscle strength and mass like resistance training does. And, if a person begins testosterone therapy in their 50’s, this means they’ll be dependent on its effects for several decades - this is of course a long term exposure to an anabolic hormone - what could go wrong?
Strength training (along with diet and nutritional supplementation) is something we regularly prescribe in order to keep our ‘aging’ patients’ testosterone levels at healthy levels as they age.
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In Health, Fitness and Endurance,
Dr. Jason Barker
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Effects of heavy-resistance training on hormonal response patterns in younger vs. older men.
2. Kraemer WJ, Häkkinen K, Newton RU et al. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1998 Feb;77(3):206-11. Acute hormonal responses to heavy resistance exercise in younger and older men.
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