Loss of muscle mass has been thought of as a hard reality of growing old. But Dr. William Evans, a researcher in geriatrics, said this loss can be reduced.
Evans spoke at the Food Science and Nutrition building to about 60 people Friday. He discussed ways to keep muscle into old age in the seminar about the effect aging has on exercise and nutrition.
Evans cited numerous experiments, most conducted by the department he heads — the Nutrition, Metabolism and Exercise Laboratory at the University of Arkansas.
Using examples such as CAT scans of two women’s thighs at age 21 and 90, the middle-aged speaker illustrated muscle mass as opposed to fat. The scans told the tale of aging; the thigh lost about 55 percent of its muscle in the 69-year age difference.
Evans, author of more than 120 scientific studies, disproved myths people have about weight gain. He said metabolism is less of a factor in weight gain than activity. People who are more active keep weight off more easily than those who are sedentary, Evans said.
Evans also debunked the myth that older people don’t respond to weight lifting. He said they also do respond if they are lifting the right amount, at least 60 percent of their one repetition maximum.
“You go into rest homes and see people lifting soup cans for exercise; that doesn’t work,” said Evans.
Previous studies have tested older men lifting only 20 to 30 percent of their one repetition maximum. When Evans increased that amount to 80 percent of their one repetition maximum, participants averaged a 15 percent muscle mass gain over a twelve-week period.
Evans has the luxury of experimenting in his metabolic ward, which he said is similar to a hotel suite, where participants in his studies stay for extended periods of time with their weight “clamped.” Evans and lab assistants then run tests on everything from participants’ sweat to their urine, even requiring them to clean their plates with their drinking water — then drink the water.
Many of Evans’ studies have shown the current recommended daily allowances are not correct for much of the population. Evans said the RDA standards were derived from a study of sedentary college students.
Author of the book, “Biomarkers: The Ten Determinants of Aging You Can Control,” Evans said those who build muscle mass throughout their lives naturally stay more aerobically active.
Recent retiree Barbara Schue, who attended the event, said her husband lifts weights but only with a 10-pound dumbbell.
“It sounds like I’m going to have to get him some more weights,” she said.
But Evans did not spend the entire time debunking myths. One study he cited proved 59 percent of owners of fat dogs are obese themselves, Evans said.