The Importance of Strength Training Versus Walking for Maintaining Muscle During Dieting

“…if you’re cutting calories to lose weight, adding weights to your weight loss regimen may be more effective than beginning a walking program, according to a new study that adds to growing evidence that weight training is important for vigorous aging.” Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times.

There was an article published this week in the New York Times by Gretchen Reynolds that reported on a new study, published this month in the journal Obesity, that looked at strength training and walking for preserving muscle mass during dieting. In the study, researchers from Wake Forest University and other institutions looked at 249 men and women over the age of 60 and how their bodies responded to being on a diet only, strength training and diet or aerobic exercise and diet. The length of the study was 18 months. The researchers measured each subjects body composition and leg-muscle strength and assessed their current diet. The researchers placed subjects in one of three groups that included:

Group 1: Involved a basic calorie-reduction plan, during which they cut their food intake by an amount expected to help them lose 7 to 10 percent of their body weight over the coming months involving a reduction of about 300 calories per day. This group was asked not to exercise.

Group 2: Also reduced their calories but at the same time, they began a supervised aerobic exercise program consisting of walking briskly on a track for 45 minutes four times per week.

Group 3: This group also reduced calories but also began a strength training program. They worked with trainers four times a week at a gym completing a full-body strength training routine using weight machines.

By the end of the study, subjects in all three groups lost body weight but there were some interesting differences between the amount and type of weight (muscle/fat) that had been lost. The groups on average lost about 20-pounds per person but “the weight loss among walkers and weight trainers was qualitatively different, their new body-compositions scans showed.” The strength training group had lost about two pounds of muscle and 18-pounds of fat, while the walkers had dropped about four pounds of muscle and 16-pounds of fat. The group that had dieted and not exercised had lost about two pounds of muscle. In effect, the walkers had lost more lean muscle mass in total and as an overall percentage of their weight loss than either of the other two groups, including those who had not exercised at all. You need to keep in mind at this point that as you continue to age – especially after ages 50-60 – your metabolism continues to change as well…and not for the better. Over time, research shows you add 1-2 pounds per year while at the same time you’re losing about 5-pounds of muscle per decade, this in turn changes your metabolism. The main culprit here is muscle mass. You need to preserve muscle tissue as you age and the only way that can be done is through regular strength training that is progressive in nature and a sound nutrition plan. Making sure you get plenty of high-quality protein throughout the day and possibly prior to bedtime will also help. Your body has lost approximately 20-pounds of muscle by the time you reach age 60 compared to when you were age 20. What are you going to do about that?

If you would like an easy to follow, step-by-step approach on how to do this, then take a look at my book, The TBC30 Plan: A 6-Step Diet & Exercise Strategy for Life (Amazon Digital Services, 2017).

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