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"Because of the need for extra strength training as I grow older, Iím currently planning to add an extra day of weight work to my regimen." Kenneth H. Cooper M.D.
Father of Aerobics Pumps More Iron
At an age when most people are slowing down, 70-year-old Dr. Ken Cooper, who coined the term aerobics in 1968 and founded the world-renowned Cooper Aerobic Center in Dallas, is upping his iron pumping sessions from two to three days a week. Whatís more, heís added a new book to the dozen or so heís already written explaining why most people should follow suit. In Regaining the Power of Youth At Any Age, he writes: "As you grow older, the need to do strength training becomes increasingly important to help you retard the loss of muscle and bone mass."
This has not always been Cooperís view. In his 1968 book Aerobics, weight lifting didnít even make the list of desirable exercises. "Iíll state my position early," he wrote. "The best exercises are running, swimming, cycling, walking, stationary running, handball, basketball and squash, and in just about that order." He had no use for exercises aimed mainly at the skeletal muscles. He believed that stop-and-go exercises which make little or no demands on the lungs, heart and blood system were of little use for building "true fitness." But like any good scientist, Dr. Cooper has kept an open mind and continued to learn over the course of his long and distinguished career in preventive medicine and physical fitness. He has not abandoned his belief in aerobic exercise, however. Far from it.
His "Bedrock Principle # 1" remains that almost everyone should engage in regular, moderate aerobic exercise. Says Cooper: "The overwhelming weight of scientific evidence demonstrates conclusively that abandoning a sedentary lifestyle and following a moderate exercise routine will greatly reduce your risk of dying from all causes Ė and enhances your chance of living a longer, more active life."
Shifting Aerobic/Strength Balance
Now, however, he recommends a mix of aerobic or endurance conditioning and strength work. He proposes an "aerobic-strength axis" with the balance changing depending on how old you are. At age 40 and younger, he suggests 80 % aerobics and 20 % strength; age 41 to 50, 70/30; 51 to 60, 60/40; and at 61 and older, 55/45. So heís still favors aerobics, but the bias practically disappears after 60.
"A good rule of thumb," says Cooper, "is that you should always include at least 50 percent aerobic/endurance work in your personal fitness routine, regardless of your age and sports interest." He adds, however, that everyone should perform "at least the minimum percentage of strength work. Otherwise, itís virtually inevitable that you will suffer a dramatic loss in strength and muscle mass." His guidelines for different ages are only averages, of course. Cooper says the desirable ratio varies depending on your personal goals.
Evidence Is Strong
Dr. Cooper still leans toward aerobics because he believes the supporting evidence at this time is stronger. He cites a number of impressive studies showing that endurance training slows the steady erosion of oxygen uptake capacity with age that appears to occur for both trained and untrained individuals. He cites one study which indicates that it may even be possible to stop the decline with hard consistent training. That study, reported in the Journal of Applied Physiology, followed a group of track athletes, age 50 to 82, who remained highly competitive for 10 years Ė and found that their aerobic capacity remained unchanged during the entire time.
In addition, Cooper says the support for strength training continues to grow. "The evidence is accumulating that the older you are, the more strength work you need." Up to 50, people lose about four percent of their strength and muscle mass per decade. After that, the loss increases to about 10 percent per decade. "By age 60," Cooper writes, "the average man will have lost about one third of his muscle mass Ė unless he makes an effort to reverse the process through weight training." Women face a similar decline.
Cooperís Own Example
Dr. Cooper gives some interesting specifics on his own training, which illustrate how the guidelines actually work. At the present time, Cooper figures that he devotes 70 percent to aerobics and 30 percent to strength training, showing that his guidelines are flexible based on personal needs. Dr. Cooperís ratio is not as one-sided as this makes it appear, however. Thatís because he includes walking with his wife in the evening three or four times a week as part of his aerobics. Itís important to understand that his percentages are calculated on the time spent working out; intensity is not taken into account.
What I would call his "real aerobic workouts" are done on the well-marked, rubberized running path which snakes around the beautifully landscaped grounds of his Aerobics Center, where he runs 2.25 to 3 miles three to five times a week. Based on his running workouts alone, his aerobics percentage would be considerably less. He also justifies doing more aerobics than his guidelines call for by saying that he spends more time in all types of activity than the average person, which allows him to devote most of his "elective" activity to the endurance sports he loves, "such as walking with my wife in the cool of the evening in our neighborhood in Dallas, or mountain hiking on picturesque trails near our vacation home in Colorado."
At the time his book went to press, his strength training consisted of working out on weight machines for about 20 minutes twice a week. As indicated above, because of the need for extra strength training at he grows older, he was planning to add an extra day of weight training to his regimen. So I assume that he is now training with weights three times a week, which would also bring him closer to his own guidelines.
If time alone is the measure, my own training ratio is about the same as Dr. Cooperís. My weight workouts, an extended session on Saturday and a very brief upper-body session on Wednesday, add up to about two hours a week. My hard aerobics session on Saturday and walking during the week totals about six hours. That makes my ratio roughly 25 percent strength and 75 percent aerobic. Thatís not the way I see it, however. I donít consider my weekday walks workouts. Like Dr. Cooperís evening walks with his wife, they are more in the nature of active rest. I consider my training pretty equally balanced between weights and aerobics. Iím hardly typical, of course. I can well understand why Dr. Cooper chooses to calculate the percentages in terms of time spent working out during the week. That probably works fine for most people; itís better to keep things simple whenever possible.
Jensen Recognized the Need
Iíd like to end with a pat on the back for my personal physician Arnie Jensen, who works with Dr. Cooper at the Aerobics Center in Dallas. As readers know from other articles on this site, Dr. Jensen has long recognized the need for strength training. My strength training background was the reason why he initially brought me to the Cooper Clinic for testing in 1988. Arnie has consistently argued for the greater emphasis that the Cooper Aerobics Center now gives to strength training. To Dr. Cooperís credit, it didnít take him long to get on board the strength training bandwagon -- even though his personal preference was and no doubt will remain endurance training.
To learn more about Dr. Cooperís latest recommendations, order a copy of his new book Regaining the Power of Youth from Amazon.com or pick it up at your local bookstore.
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