So, the festive season is over - and the traditional response to the New Year is a pile of resolutions, amongst the most common of which is the intention to lose the excess weight built up over the holidays. The chances are it isn't extra muscle that you've put on, but something a lot less "useful"!
If you want to lose it, a recent study, by Leslie Willis of Duke University, North Carolina, and published in the Journal of Applied Physiology suggests that, in order to lose fat mass, aerobic training is more efficient than resistance training. In the study, obese subjects were randomly split into 3 groups who were assigned Aerobic Training, Resistance Training or a Combination of the two.
The results showed that the Aerobics only group and the Combined group reduced overall body mass more than the Resistance only group. However, the Resistance only group and the Combined group increased lean mass (muscle) more than the Aerobics only group.
So, if you not only want to reduce fat mass but at the same time build lean mass, you need to combine aerobic training with resistance training.
Another study, from 2000 and published on Karger.com compares the effects on fat mass of diet alone (a food intake reduced to approximately 80% of predicted need) and of diet combined with resistance exercises, along with an increased protein intake. Both regimes produced an overall similar weight loss, but whereas in the diet regime the loss was the result solely of a reduction of fat mass, in the regime combining diet and resistance exercise the weight loss was a result of a greater fat loss at the same time as a muscle mass increase.
And maintaining muscle mass is an important thing to do as you age, whether you like your sports - as presumably you do if you're visiting this site - or whether your aim is to avoid the frailty that traditionally accompanies ageing. We've seen, in the research reported on in our article "Exercise and Lean Muscle Mass", that much of the loss of muscle mass, (maybe all of it?), is due to inactivity and lack of use rather than any innate tendency of muscle itself. If you keep working your muscles, you won't lose them.
We found still more encouraging research while researching this article. Also in the Journal of Applied Physiology, we found an article reporting the results of a study of the aerobic capacity and skeletal muscular capacity of octogenarian Master athletes, endurance athletes who had been exercising and training throughout their lives. The study found that in terms of both aerobic capacity and skeletal muscular capacity the Master athletes had measurements twice as high as healthy but otherwise untrained 80-year-olds. And much lower body fat as well. An article on the same site commenting on these findings compared them to finding the Fountain of Youth! This article noted that even if perhaps half of the high VO2 max values could be attributed to the original physical attributes which had enabled these people to be elite athletes in the first place, that would still mean that the other half could be attributed to continued exercise and physical training.
All of which means that if you want to stay sports capable, avoid frailty, and maintain the capacity to lead an independent and potentially more fulfilled life, you can do it, but you have to work at it, you have to exercise. And these studies show that you can put in that effort in the knowledge that it is worth it, that you will reap the benefits from doing it.