How to Slow Down the Aging Process

Exercise Applies Brakes on Sarcopenia in Aging

By Ladislav P. Novak, Ph.D.

SARCOPENIA is a biological entity that decreases skeletal muscle mass and increases body fat mass during aging processes. It affects individuals of both genders who reside in countries of affluence and are around 40-50 years of age. Sarcopenia has been associated with decreasing functional requirements; it leads to disability, frailty, anxiety and accidents. Even depression sets in, and the inability to cope with stress increases the potential for morbidity and even mortality, factors reported by several researchers in the U.S. and in various countries elsewhere.

To improve survival and reduce disability of the elderly, physical activity as a modifier of sarcopenia has been recommended. First, it was thought that leisure-time activities at home such as gardening, raking leaves or slow walking through the neighborhood would attenuate loss of muscle mass as well as inhibit increase of body fat. However, a three-year longitudinal study, in which the impact of leisure-time physical activity was studied in healthy men and women over 65 years old, showed no effect on prevention of muscle loss and increase on body fat was reported.

However, more recently, a 2006 study of 74 men and 66 women over 65 years old revealed that moderate physical exercise of 60 minutes, three to four times a week related positively with increased muscle mass and negatively with whole body fat. Authors of this study stressed participation in physical activities, which prevent muscle loss and body fat increase. Further, physical activity was recommended as the first choice in strategy to delay changes of the body composition and progress of sarcopenia with associated morbidity in the elderly populations.

If you led a sedentary life-style for most of your adult life, you probably felt tired, overworked and stressed daily. You looked forward to arrive home from work, drop to your favorite easy-chair and rest to recuperate from feeling fatigue. Ultimately, this daily occurrence provided you with thoughts that there might be another way to live, to change this unpleasant situation. Yes, you can embark on personal or group organized leisure-time pleasures involving physical exercise. Please, do not try to remedy a lack of physical conditioning that has developed over a period of years with heroic attempts to whip yourself into shape overnight. Exercise should not be a physical punishment endured as a penalty for previous inactivity but a pleasurable, exhilarating activity. Walking is a convenient, natural activity, especially for the overweight, poorly-conditioned elderly.

So here we propose to you an eight week program of walking at certain speeds and the energy cost of this activity. Where to walk? The best environment to begin is a walking track at your neighborhood high school. The special surface provides comfort for your feet and makes the 400 yard distance easily achievable. How fast to walk one lap, and the energy costs of each, is provided for you within the table included with this article. Yes, your weight affects this cost of walking. First, let us consider sarcopenic elderly with eroded muscle mass.

  1. Start walking on a 400-yard lap track. Walk slowly twice around for 800 yards, three times a week for the first week. Increase your walk to three laps for 1,200 yards the second week. Continue to leisurely walk for the third week covering four laps for 1,600 yards, which is equal to one mile. Now, you are ready to increase your speed of walking. Consult the table provided here which also provides information about calories required to have adequate energy for walking at various speeds of 2.0 mph, 2.5 mph, 3.0 mph and eventually for 3.5 mph.


Body Weight

Speed 2.0 mph

2.5 mph

3.0 mph

3.5 mph









































Example: Man = 200 lbs. walks for one hour at speeds above:

Calories used:        22.8          264                336                 444

Example: Woman = 150 lbs. .walks for an hour at speeds above:

Calories used:                        168                198                 222

*Using 3,600 calories by walking in a month results in loss of 1 lb. of weight.*

  1. Another eight-week program for inactive people suggests the following schedule:
1 week Walk at comfortable pace for a total of 20 minutes
2 week Walk at comfortable pace for 5 minutes, increase speed to a brisk walk for 5 minutes
3 week Alternate slow and fast sets for 8 minutes each for 4 sets
4 week Walk comfortably for 10 minutes, briskly for 10 minutes then repeat
5 week Walk slowly for 10 minutes, briskly for 15 minutes, slowly for 5 minutes
6 week Walk briskly for 20 minutes continuously
7 week Walk briskly for 30 minutes continuously
8 week Walk briskly for 45 minutes as you feel like
Comment Brisk walk means 60% of target heart rate. Example: If you are 50 years old-max. heart rate = 220 – 50(age) = 170 x 60% – 108 heart rate.
  1. Outdoors walking if weather permits.  Harder surface – use number II program – advantage, you will meet other people walking, social interaction cements your decision to continue permanently on your resolve to achieve your goals: loss of weight, stronger leg muscles, building good health habits, and benefits you can enjoy throughout your life.
  1. Health Benefits. Most people who exercise know that they feel good about themselves and they feel improvement in their personal appearance. They also enjoy better quality of life with fewer health problems compared to inactive people.

Many years of research into the benefits of physical fitness and wellness documented well the advantages of active people:

  1. Better muscle tone, muscular strength and endurance.
  2. Maintenance of optimal weight.
  3. Increase in lean body mass and decrease of body fat-beats sarcopenia.
  4. Enhanced cardio-respiratory system (heart, lungs).
  5. Decreasing the blood clotting mechanism thus decreasing the risk of heart attack and strokes.
  6. Prevents or delays developing high blood pressure and helps to lower blood pressure with hypertension.
  7. Helps to lower cholesterol level and raise protective high density lipo-protein (HDL).
  8. Helps to prevent and control diabetes-insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance.
  9. Helps to achieve strong bones thus preventing the risk of osteoporosis.
  10. Relieves or prevents chronic back pain, tension, anxiety, depression.
  11. Motivates people towards more a positive lifestyle.
  12. Counteracts chronic fatigue and improves physical stamina.
  13. Enhances quality of life, independent living and a healthier, happier life.

All of these benefits are worthwhile to consider seriously. Therefore, don’t delay anymore, start tomorrow with a positive lasting attitude. Good luck from us!

Author Ladislav P. Novak, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, T