I used to volunteer at a retirement home in my home town back in the UK when I lived there.

We used to call it the “old peoples home” and every time I walked through the entrance I was consumed by the overwhelming smell of cooked cabbage and farts.

I guess most of the inmatesresidents at this place were there because they were totally dependent on the help of the staff. They needed everything to be done for them from personal hygiene to being fed and clothed each day.

I think it’s fair to say that the vast majority of these people were feeble, wretched shadows of their former selves and the very fact that they were in a special home always made me feel quite sad because I believed then, as I do now, that no-one actually wants to end up so weak and dependent on others and, more importantly, that institution was a reminder that there was probably a family for every resident there who didn’t want to or couldn’t look after the old person.

Invariably this means out of sight is out of mind and so the breakdown of family and society begins…

Of course this is an oversimplified view of things, but there is truth behind the sentiment.

Seeing these elderly people who could no longer complete simple functions in daily life without assistance made me want to never, ever be like that. I know I can’t stop the inevitable ageing process. I’m in my 40’s now and, the simple fact is, there are members of my gym who are young enough to be my children, but I like to think I can still hold my own.

Muscle loss (typically with age) and a decrease in physical activity, otherwise known as sarcopenia is a real public health issue as people lose the ability to live independently. This is more of a problem than it ever used to be because modern “medicine” is making people live longer. Sarcopenia, on the surface, looks like a wasting disease that turns you into a bag of useless bones.

It used to scare the hell out of me to think that one day, I might be one of the oldies, sitting in a wheelchair, with my hands shaking telling stories of the old days to visitors, handing boiled sweets to attractive nurses and hoping that my online supply of viagra would be delivered in an unmarked package this time.

Sarcopenia happens to EVERYONE to some degree. BUT the simple fact is you can do something about it.

From your mid twenties the degeneration will begin. The biggest single factors in not only preventing this but possibly reversing it are…wait for it…Exercise and Nutrition. Oh! What a bloody surprise!

Protein and fat seems to be the biggest contributing factor to stopping sarcopenia in its tracks. If you’ve read any blog post we have written on nutrition you won’t be surprised at all by this. Studies like this have shown that diets rich in fat and protein help people live longer, STRONGER lives. After all let’s face it, who wants to live to be 125 if the last 30 years of your life are spent dribbling in a wheelchair and having your bum wiped by a large Polish nurse everyday??

The sad news is that there are too many elderly people who are utterly convinced that eating low fat, low salt, whole grain diets will keep you alive and to the ripe old age they are. I have family members in their 80’s who tell me I should eat whole grain bread, low salt and a low fat, preferably vegetarian diet, to successfully live to their age and health levels. Interestingly, these same relatives have the following conditions: Type II diabetes, chronically high blood pressure, triple bypass heart surgery, distended abdomens, they are on a concoction of crazy medications, popping 20 pills a day and they are unable to walk up or down a flight of stairs without constant assistance. We put it down to old age but sorry, I don’t buy it.

Exercise can transform frail people into useful people. I’ve seen this first hand in endurance athletes who are unable to squat or deadlift close to half of their bodyweight, but following a strict training program of strength work and sprints, they get significantly stronger, more muscular looking and more importantly for them they PR on their marathon times…by minutes not by a few seconds.

Other studies like this and this come to the same conclusions.

Of course there are plenty of “exercise” programs available to the elderly. I remember in a gym I worked at they had a class that was hilarious to watch. It was called “Chairobics”. It was run by an overweight mad woman who, I was convinced, was taking some kind of anti-depressant and involved a room full of old or disabled people sitting in a chair waving their hands around to acoustic guitar music. Here is a sample for your viewing pleasure.

I might get some criticism for ripping into this so here is my disclaimer…Of course this is far better than doing nothing and absolutely it can be helpful for some folks who are so frail they can’t stand up, but there is not a lot of functionality in this kind of “exercise” program and, I personally think, it’s an insult to people who can and should do far more than open and close their legs with an elastic band. My argument is that the elderly should never get to this stage in their lives in the first place. Barring some kind of disease or degenerative condition, I want to be able to walk, jog, lift, press, pull and do all the other things that make me feel like a useful member of society.

The CrossFit Games Masters category is the biggest single motivator for me.

This guy is amazing:

And check out these girls:

They shouldn’t be the exception though. They should be the norm and I know that this is certainly something I want for myself, family and friends.

Witnessing men and women in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and beyond doing things that they shouldn’t be able to is the ultimate middle finger to sarcopenia and age or activity related degenerative issues like arthritis, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis or osteopenia. Ok you might be fighting a losing battle against the white hairs, wrinkles and awful music the “kids” are listening to these days with their jeans hanging off their asses like they’ve just been pulled down, but I’m going down fighting!

If the “Masters” are doing this cool stuff now…imagine what this current generation of CrossFitter will be like in 20 or 30 years time…