Behind the epidemic of growing waistlines is another that gets little attention: the weakening of America. Starting in our 40s, we lose about ½ pound of muscle each year, and gain at least that much in fat; and once we reach the age of 50, muscle loss accelerates. This trend has become a major contributor to chronic illness and premature death in the United States. In 2008 the first ever Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans were issued to help us avoid the damaging effects of muscle loss. They recommend scientifically based physical activity to prevent and manage chronic illness. Since their release, fitness professionals have been using these guidelines to help people of all ages live healthy lifestyles. Despite the attention the guidelines have received, most Americans are still sitting on the sidelines. This is unfortunate given that we spend billions of dollars treating illnesses that could be prevented. In an attempt to reverse this trend, the Surgeon General has urged all Americans to make physical activity a daily priority. According to Dr. Steven Blair at the University of South Carolina, “As a treatment for chronic disease, physical activity produces significantly better results than drug therapy or surgery – yet costs much less.” In other words, adding physical activity to your lifestyle can save you money and improve your quality of life. Here’s what you need to know to start living healthier through increased physical activity: The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans make specific recommendations for both aerobic and resistance exercise (strength training) which includes engaging in both types of activity weekly. It's a new way of thinking for many Americans who are unfamiliar with the benefits of strength training; for those growing up in the 60s and 70s, strength training was viewed as unnecessary from a health standpoint. This mindset is evident when you consider the research and academic writings of the 60’s and 70’s. When Dr. Kenneth Cooper of the world-renowned Cooper Institute published his book Aerobics in 1968, he acknowledged that in spite of the progress that had been made in the field of exercise physiology, we still had a lot to learn. And learn we did -- the following two decades produced an avalanche of research that turned the field of exercise physiology upside down. An example of this learning curve is found in a book Dr. Cooper wrote 20 years later, The Strength Connection: How to Build Strength and Improve the Quality of Your Life. In sharp contrast to Aerobics,which focused exclusively on aerobic activities, The Strength Connection focused squarely on the health benefits of strength training! Despite the recognition of strength training as a vital component of recommended physical activity, many Americans still view it as an optional activity. At MEDFITNESS, strength training is the centerpiece of our program -- because strength training increases your ability to stay active and function independently, especially as you age. Research has shown the primary reason mature adults lose function and become less active is due to muscle loss. When you lose muscle, you lose strength; this cycle of muscle loss and inactivity is a major contributor to chronic illness and premature death in the U.S. Until recently, medical doctors did not fully appreciate the connection between muscle loss and inactivity, but much has been leaned in recent years. Research has revealed that muscle loss not only weakens muscles, it also lowers VO2 max -- the capacity of the body to use oxygen for the production of energy. This means that weak muscles not only produce less force, they are also less efficient at using oxygen. Both of these changes contribute to decreases in function and physical activity. In other words, the more muscle you lose, the more difficult it becomes to be physically active. An example of this connection can be seen in studies measuring walking speed and mortality (death) rates. Research has revealed that the slower you walk, the more likely you are to die! According to Michelle Eslami, MD, a geriatrician at UCLA Health System, “research has shown that increased walking speed is linked to longevity.”1 As surprising as this seems, it makes sense; muscle loss has long been linked to inactivity. Unfortunately, though Americans view muscle loss and slow walking as a normal part of aging. Perhaps the greatest challenge Americans face is their attitude. Most people assume that little can be done to prevent the downward spiral of muscle loss, and so end up suffering from diseases that could easily be prevented, or more successfully managed. According to Dr. Miriam Nelson, exercise scientist at Tufts University, “Muscle is the absolute centerpiece for being healthy, vital, and independent as we grow older.” Experts agree that adding a strength-training program to your lifestyle can reverse the metabolic aging associated with muscle loss. In just minutes a week you can build a strong, disease-resistant body that keeps you active and independent for years to come.