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Optimizing Vitality in Aging Veterans: The Power of Muscle Building and Maintenance

The Critical Role of Muscle in a Veteran’s Health Journey

For veterans, especially those who served as tactical athletes in the military or emergency services, maintaining a strong and healthy physique was an essential part of their service. However, as these professionals transition to civilian life and age, maintaining muscle mass can become more challenging. This shift in lifestyle and physical capability can significantly impact their health and quality of life.

Combatting Obesity and Metabolic Diseases

During active service, physical fitness was a necessary component of their routine. With regular high-intensity training, the body efficiently burned energy, which helped manage weight. However, a slower metabolism and less intense activity in later life can increase the risk of obesity. More muscle mass means a higher metabolic rate, even at rest. This advantage can help veterans combat obesity, which often leads to metabolic diseases like diabetes. Additionally, the impact of resistance exercise in improving insulin sensitivity can further assist in managing or preventing these conditions.

Counteracting Sarcopenia

Sarcopenia, the natural loss of muscle tissue with age, can lead to reduced strength and mobility. For someone who has experienced the high physical demands of tactical operations, this can be a challenging change. Strength training can counter this decline, promoting the production of muscle proteins and slowing muscle loss.

A Line of Defense Against Cancer

Greater muscle mass and regular strength training also provide a line of defense against cancer. Studies have shown that maintaining a higher muscle-to-fat ratio and engaging in resistance exercise can reduce the risk of several types of cancer.

Mental Strength and Sharpness: Psychological and Cognitive Benefits

Maintaining physical strength is not the only benefit veterans can derive from regular strength training. It can also significantly improve mental health and cognitive function. Strength training can help combat depression and anxiety, common mental health challenges veterans may face. It also boosts self-esteem, a crucial factor in overall wellbeing and successful aging.

Furthermore, regular physical activity, particularly strength training, has been shown to enhance cognitive function, reducing the risk of cognitive decline. The focus, discipline, and coordination required in strength training exercises, such as deadlifting or bench pressing, stimulate brain activity and can enhance mental sharpness.

Unpacking the Molecular Mechanisms

From a molecular perspective, the process of muscle building triggered by strength training activates various biological pathways. These mechanisms stimulate the production of muscle proteins, promoting growth and countering muscle breakdown. In addition, strength training supports neuronal health by triggering the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which fosters the growth of new neurons.

Practical Steps: Strength Training for Aging Veterans

Incorporating strength training into a regular routine is a practical step towards maintaining muscle mass. Exercises like deadlifts and leg presses work multiple muscle groups at once, improving overall strength and balance. They can replicate the rigorous training that veterans experienced during their service, providing not just physical but psychological benefits.

Beyond the gym, other physical activities like rucking or joining a veteran sports team can add variety to fitness routines and provide additional cognitive and psychological benefits. Such activities also offer opportunities for camaraderie and support, important for overall wellbeing and successful transition to civilian life.

Key Takeaways

The transition from active service to veteran status can bring numerous health challenges. However, maintaining and building muscle through regular strength training can provide both physical and psychological benefits, helping veterans age healthily and maintain a high quality of life. Whether it’s lifting weights at the gym, participating in team sports, or going rucking, there are many ways for veterans to stay strong and sharp as they age. By understanding the physiological, psychological, and molecular benefits of strength training, veterans can better appreciate its role in promoting their health and independence.

References

American College of Sports Medicine et al., (2009), “American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Exercise and physical activity for older adults.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise vol. 41(7), 1510-30, doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181a0c95c. available: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19516148/

Carson B. P. (2017). The Potential Role of Contraction-Induced Myokines in the Regulation of Metabolic Function for the Prevention and Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes. Frontiers in endocrinology8, 97. https://doi.org/10.3389/fendo.2017.00097

Fragala, M. S., Cadore, E. L., Dorgo, S., Izquierdo, M., Kraemer, W. J., Peterson, M. D., & Ryan, E. D. (2019). Resistance Training for Older Adults: Position Statement From the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Journal of strength and conditioning research33(8), 2019–2052. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000003230

Chow, ZS., Moreland, A.T., Macpherson, H. et al. The Central Mechanisms of Resistance Training and Its Effects on Cognitive Function. Sports Med 51, 2483–2506 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-021-01535-5

Gries, K.J. and Trappe, S.W. (2022) ‘The aging athlete: Paradigm of healthy aging,’ International Journal of Sports Medicine, 43(08), 661–678. available: https://doi.org/10.1055/a-1761-8481

Herold, F., Törpel, A., Schega, L. et al. Functional and/or structural brain changes in response to resistance exercises and resistance training lead to cognitive improvements – a systematic review. Eur Rev Aging Phys Act 16, 10 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s11556-019-0217-2

O’Connor PJ, Herring MP, Caravalho A. Mental Health Benefits of Strength Training in Adults. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. 2010;4(5):377-396. doi:10.1177/1559827610368771

Mayer, Frank et al. “The intensity and effects of strength training in the elderly.” Deutsches Arzteblatt international vol. 108,21 (2011): 359-64. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2011.0359

Wolfe R. R. (2006). The underappreciated role of muscle in health and disease. The American journal of clinical nutrition84(3), 475–482. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/84.3.475

DISCLAIMER: Content on this website is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Please see a physician or mental health specialist before making any medical or lifestyle decisions. Statements made on this website have not been evaluated by the FDA. Products recommended on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

James Conner , USMC (Ret.)
I am a 20 year United States Marine Corps veteran. I spent 10 years as an infantryman participating in many overseas deployments to include multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. I earned a BSc. in Sports and Exercise Science from the University of Limerick (Ireland), and am currently living in the Netherlands where I am pursuing a MSc in Biomedicine specializing in Physical Activity, Nutrition, and Metabolism. I am a Certified Fitness Trainer, Sports Nutrition Specialist, Precision Nutrition Level 1 Coach, and Cancer Exercise Specialist.
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