I recently received the following response to my articles on aging and training:
“It is so encouraging to learn that you/we can create muscle mass at an older age and progress in bodybuilding or strength training. I get excited just reading about it. The old mythology told us to ‘give it up’ as we age. Your dedication and success are so inspiring and are a great kick in the butt for me. There really is no excuse not to try. Thanks for that too.”
That message fires me up to kick more butts off the couches and rocking chairs and into the vibrant, vital life of bodybuilding. It validates my writings. You all know the myth of which he writes. Well-meaning people believe it’s their duty to “take care of the old folks,” to give them an easy time in their last years. Their understanding is that anyone who gets up in years should have less vitality because bones, muscles and nerves are tired and need rest. “He’s paid his dues,” they say. “Now we should see that he enjoys some leisure in the years (months?) he has left.”
Well-intentioned, charitable agencies similarly feed that myth. For example, the church I attend has a program to build a “retirement center” for seniors. It’s full of concepts that are intended to make life easy for the residents. I’ve advanced the idea that while some seniors do need caregivers, the plan should include assisting capable residents to become rejuvenated through a vigorous exercise program. My offer has been met with absolute silence. It’s my suspicion that it’s more satisfying for them to make life easier for the “old folks” than to promote their physical, mental, social rejuvenation. To provide for the latter might just elevate the seniors to a less dependent vitality, decreasing the “market” of seniors needing assistance in their last years.
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The blame for perpetuating the myth is shared by some seniors themselves—probably because, believing the myth, they’re eager to allow themselves to vegetate. Many have a certain weariness born of years of meeting the challenges of life. The opportunity to relax and have others discharge the obligations rising from the challenges becomes appealing.
I’m here to tell you that the myth that we should surrender to so-called old age, accepting without a whimper inabilities that we’re told are inevitable, is dead wrong.
First off, the idea that people must use their bones, muscles and nerves less as they age is backward. The human body is a wonderful creation that responds favorably to the challenges given it. That is, when you exert your muscles, bones or nerves beyond what they can handle and then rest a bit, the body goes to work to get the muscles, bones or nerves ready to meet the next similar challenge. In other words, they grow and improve when they need to. The contrary also holds: If you don’t require your body to do more, it will become even less able. That being the truth, contrary to the old myth, people shouldn’t take it easy as the years mount. Rather, they should work out, challenging their body to respond, as it will, with growth.
Some personal trainers make a mistake in working with seniors. They’re afraid to really work the senior trainee. I know that to be true from my own experience. In my first days of working out to reclaim vital life, I was guided by a young, well-intentioned but inexperienced trainer. I started out with very light exercises. The trainer believed that he had to “go easy on the old man.” Although I had clearance from my doctors, the trainer believed that if I overexerted, I might have a heart attack or a stroke or something. I think his concern was as much for himself as it was for me. He didn’t want an emergency on his watch.
I had to ask him repeatedly to train me harder, expect more of me. His reluctance to do that was one of the reasons I found a real bodybuilding trainer who expects no less of me than he does of his younger clients. “Ask and you shall receive” is a better guide. If you’re really serious about developing your physique through bodybuilding, you and your trainer have to make demands in your training that go beyond, far beyond, the myth about seniors. If much is demanded of you, much will be achieved. To ask little is to ensure that the ravages of age will continue to manifest. In that, age is not a consideration at all.
My primary goal is to help those who have reached advanced years and/or have some serious medical diagnosis. I encourage you to take charge of your life through bodybuilding. Heed the truth of the old hymn’s words:
“Lay hold on life, and it shall be Thy joy and crown eternally.”
Kill the myth that says we can’t increase muscle mass at an older age and progress in bodybuilding or strength training. Not only can you, but your body demands it of you. If you accept the myth, you’ll only become progressively older in mind, spirit and body. If you take charge of your life through bodybuilding, you’ll become living proof of the error of the myth. Your muscles will respond to the demands and grow, accompanied by the equal growth of your mind and spirit.
Editor’s note: John Pasco is a 75-year-old competitive bodybuilder. For more of his articles, visit www.Bodybuilding.com. IM