Aging doesn’t mean you have to surrender your speed and muscle power. Whether you’re 35 or 65, you can participate in exercises designed to develop your fast-twitch muscle fibers and keep you moving. While your overall speed will decrease with age, you can avoid losing it altogether by focusing on plyometrics, agility drills and strength-training.
Beginning at age 30, most people lose roughly 1 percent of muscle every year as the body starts to tear down old muscle at a faster rate than it builds new tissue. We lose muscle at the rate of 5 to 7 pounds per decade, unless we perform regular strength training. Our muscles also lose strength and flexibility, and the body begins to experience a decrease in overall balance.
In the beginning of my career I had the opportunity to work in strength research and was hired by Wayne Westcott PhD. He is currently professor of exercise science at Quincy College in Quincy, Massachusetts. Previously he was the fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy. where I worked under Dr. Westcott instructing exercise research programs. Dr. Westcott has been a strength training consultant for numerous organizations, including the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Air Force, the American Council on Exercise and more. He has authored 28 books/textbooks, and more than 90 peer-reviewed research/academic papers.
Dr. Westcott states “even when we do progressive resistance exercise we experience a change in our muscle tissue make-up as we grow older.Under normal circumstances our fast-twitch muscle fibers become smaller (atrophy), and may even disappear in more advanced years. As this process continues, we have a lower percentage of fast-twitch muscle tissue, which definitely decreases our power performance.”
He continues to explain that the fast-twitch fibers are principally responsible for fast and powerful movement actions, such as sprinting, jumping, throwing and striking. As these fibers atrophy, our ability to perform fast and powerful movement actions is reduced proportionately. That is, we can’t run as fast, jump as high, throw as hard, or swing the golf club/tennis racquet as forcefully.
Can we do anything to maintain our fast-twitch muscle fibers as we age?
Step one is to do a basic program of strength exercise two or three days each week. This will maintain/increase your muscle mass and have advantageous affects on both your slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers.
Step two is to add a few medicine ball exercises to directly address the fast-twitch fibers in the upper body muscles. Unlike standard strength training which is best performed at slow- to- moderate movement speeds, medicine ball throws can be performed at fast movement speeds because you release the ball at the end of each throwing action.
Step three is to add some interval training and sprinting to appropriate aerobic activities to stimulate fast-twitch fibers in you leg muscles. Without some form of faster-paced training, the ability to move our limbs quickly will gradually decline with age.
Perhaps the two most effective means are interval training and sprinting. Both techniques can be practiced in any aerobic activity, including running, cycling, stepping, rowing and elliptical machines. I suggest starting with interval training, which can be individually progressed in a variety of protocols. Essentially, interval training segments your endurance exercise session into alternating periods of lower effort (slower-paced) and higher effort (faster-paced) performance.”
Resistance Exercise Reverses Aging in Human Skeletal Muscle (PubMed.gov DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0000465).
Even though healthy older adults show evidence of mitochondrial impairment and muscle weakness due to aging, this can be partially reversed following six months of resistance exercise training. Following exercise training the transcriptional signature of aging was markedly reversed back to that of younger levels for most genes that were affected by both age and exercise.
You can develop your fast-twitch muscles at your age the same way you did in your youth -- by strength-training and doing speed drills. Keeping a regular weight-lifting routine, specifically for your lower body and core, will help you retain muscle altogether, which is half the battle
Because our body’s ability to recover decreases with age, you need to include adequate rest in our fitness routine. Exercising intelligent, avoid back strain and never lift more weight than you can handle.
Exercising with Medical Conditions
When you have existing medical conditions I recommend that you consult your healthcare provider to make sure the exercise is safe for your ability level and seeking the expertise of a health and fitness professional who can develop an exercise program that benefits balance, strength and muscle power and contributes to healthy active aging.
Benefits of regularly performed exercise start immediately, gradual improvements in strength, power, balance, flexibility, reaction time, joint range of motion, circulation, contribute to better posture. Exercise has beneficial effects on blood pressure and heart rate which improves cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory function, resistance training helps to improve bone density, reduces pain and is benefits in increasing blood sugar uptake and lowers blood glucose level which is important in controlling and better managing diabetes.