When it comes to ageing, there is so much you can do to slow down the march of time. Resistance exercise has been repeatedly proven by science to be one of the most beneficial ways to slow the ageing process. Resistance training has been shown to benefit trainees of all ages, but it is especially important as people approach middle age.
Weight training not only increases muscle mass but also improves everything from cognitive function and health to glucose control and insulin sensitivity, all while maintaining metabolic rate and leading to a better hormonal environment in the body.
In fact, according to recent research, resistance training reduces the risk of all-cause mortality.
However, anyone over the age of 40 benefits the most from this type of resistance training. For men, this is when andropause symptoms begin to wreak havoc on their physique and health, potentially resulting in weight gain, muscle loss, loss of sex drive, and problems with mood and brain function.
The same is true for women during the peri-menopausal and menopausal periods when oestrogen production in the ovaries decreases and fat cells and adrenal glands begin increasing sex hormone production. This can lead to muscle and bone mass loss, and if they are inactive, it can lead to weight gain.
However, increasing muscle mass and strength through resistance training has been shown to play a significant role in alleviating the symptoms of both menopause and andropause.
What is male andropause?
Men commonly experience a condition known as 'andropause' as they age, which is characterised by a gradual decline in serum testosterone levels. This is accompanied by symptoms such as bone and muscle mass loss, loss of libido and erectile dysfunction, poor prostate health, mood and cognition changes, and so on. It is, in essence, the emasculation of many of the characteristics that define men, a condition that can be physically and psychologically debilitating on all levels.
One of the distinguishing features of andropause, as opposed to the female equivalent, is the lack of a specific starting point. In today's inactive society, symptoms of andropause are appearing in men as young as 25.
However, with the growing middle-aged overweight population, andropause in your 50s is now considered the norm.
How does it occur?
While there are numerous causes of this epidemic, there is one consistent that we see with many of our clients.
Almost all men who exhibit these symptoms have very poor body composition as a result of years of over-consumption, which leads to leptin and insulin resistance.
Excessive eating and drinking can cause resistance in the hormonal receptors responsible for regulating your body's energy levels leptin.
Leptin resistance contributes to insulin resistance, which in turn increases leptin resistance, resulting in a vicious cycle and, eventually, a fat-storing machine.
The issue with leptin resistance is that it signals to the brain that you are starving even when you are not, causing your metabolic rate to slow, negatively impacting fat loss and sex hormone production.
Insulin resistance will cause similar problems, as years of stimulating excess insulin production as a result of a poor diet will impair the receptor's ability to recognise insulin's action.
As a result, excess glucose in your blood increases and is stored as body fat because it has nowhere else to go.
What can resistance exercise do for andropause?
Fortunately, andropause is treatable, and resistance exercise is arguably the most effective treatment, outperforming the effects of hormone therapy.
Because the causes of andropause and anabolic resistance are linked, the benefits of resistance exercise apply to all aspects of this growing group of men. Resistance exercise has been shown to improve strength and muscle mass, but what about assisting with hormonal recovery?
The jury is still out on whether physiologically normal increases in anabolic hormone levels contribute to muscle building.
However, in a population with very low levels of anabolic hormones that fall below the normal physiological range, stimulating them through resistance will have a very beneficial effect on hypertrophy as well as alleviating andropause symptoms.
In fact, research suggests that resistance training can help older men make physiological changes in their endocrine system, albeit at a slower rate than younger men.
Interestingly, it appears that resistance exercise has an effect in which it improves the adaptational ability to stimulate testosterone after a resistance exercise bout over time.
This means that the 'plasticity' of their endocrine systems becomes adept at producing hormonal responses after training, which, if properly programmed, will accumulate in higher testosterone levels over time.
Furthermore, 12 weeks of resistance training significantly restored the levels of anabolic hormones and steroidogenesis-related enzymes (enzymes involved in the processes of creating hormones) in a group of 13 older men in one recent study.
What about menopause?
The onset of menopause indicates that the ovaries have stopped releasing eggs. However, the transition to menopause is gradual and involves large hormonal fluctuations, resulting in the following symptoms: emotional changes, osteoporosis, decreased sex drive, hot flushes, and cardiovascular issues.
Oestrogen, progesterone, and androgens, which are hormones produced in the ovaries, decrease during menopause. Women will lose muscle and bone mass as their hormone levels decline over time.
The issue here is that as ovarian hormone production decreases, sex hormones secreted by body fat and adrenal glands increase. If a woman has been inactive and is exhibiting anabolic resistance, as well as the model of insulin and leptin resistance, she will most likely be overweight and have a lot of body fat.
As a result, hormone production becomes out of sync with the body, and systemic inflammation rises rapidly, exacerbating the effects of anabolic resistance - a serious problem affecting older people in which their muscles' ability to respond to anabolic stimuli like nutrition and exercise with normal spikes in muscle protein synthesis declines (the way the body repairs and grows muscle tissue).
How can resistance exercise help?
Every woman's menopausal experience is unique, as is the extent of her symptoms.
However, one of the most important advantages of resistance exercise is that it helps to maintain and improve a healthy body fat percentage by building muscle and losing fat.
While many of the symptoms are unavoidable, resistance exercise can help counteract unwanted weight gain and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
It can specifically aid in the preservation of bone health, which deteriorates with the loss of ovarian-produced oestrogen. Furthermore, as research has shown, effective training programmes can counteract increases in systemic inflammation.
Despite no changes in body composition, a 12-week resistance exercise study on postmenopausal women revealed a reduction in acute and chronic inflammation markers (diet was not controlled in the study).
The latter point exemplifies the impact resistance training can have on this population: the benefits of reducing inflammation for an ageing woman are vast in terms of menopausal symptoms, brain function, overall health risk, and halting sarcopenia.
When most men and women reach middle age, their health, fitness, and physique begin to deteriorate. The effects of andropause in men and menopause in women can reduce muscle mass, bone strength, and cause weight gain.
Regular resistance training, on the other hand, can significantly improve hormonal and inflammatory issues in older people, which is critical in preserving and increasing muscle mass, slowing sarcopenia (muscle wasting), and increasing fat loss.
The following instalment of the Ageing Series will demonstrate how we at Iceni Training incorporate this knowledge into an intelligent and effective training programme to achieve maximum results with older men and women.