Aging muscles: a scientific approach to exercise – part 2

The Ritcey Report

Written by Lynn Healy-Goulet
January 25, 2018


In Part 1 (Diagnosis) of Aging muscles: a scientific approach to exercise, I reported on the cellular impact exercise has on aging. I cited recent Mayo Clinic research, quoted in The New York Times1 confirming that, particularly among the older cohorts (60+), high intensity interval training delivers the best results. Now I want to share with you an approach to exercise that builds on this important research insight to deliver optimal results.


According to the experts, muscular mass development peaks in our early 40s. Decline sets in progressively after that. Loss of muscle mass can lead to a reduction in metabolism, which in turn can trigger a heightened risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

You can lose an average of nearly 7 pounds (3.175 kilos) of muscle per decade after 40. After 50, strength losses of 1.5% to 5% a year can happen. As the Mayo Clinic findings reveal, reported in Part 1 of this blog, such losses are not inevitable.

Introducing Dr. Joseph Mercola, fitness guru

According to fitness guru, Dr. Joseph Mercola2 (Peak Fitness), the Mayo Clinic research findings offer a foundation upon which to construct an exercise program uniquely tailored to neutralize the loss of muscle mass and dramatically build fitness – especially as you age.

Dr. Mercola quotes Mayo Clinic researcher Nathan K. LeBrasseur, Ph.D. – a specialist in the molecular aspects of endurance and exercise – who says: ‘Without question, exercise is the most powerful intervention to address muscle loss, whether it occurs in the context of advancing age or debilitating chronic or acute diseases.’

Familiar with the Mayo Clinic findings, and broadly supportive of their conclusions, Dr. Mercola agrees that high intensity interval training (HIIT) and high-intensity circuit training (HICT) ‘can yield greater fitness benefits in less time compared to longer, low- or moderate-intensity workouts.’

In addition to promoting mitochondrial health, two key benefits of HIIT and HICT3 include:

Fat loss and weight loss

HIIT and HICT involves using multiple large muscles with very little rest between sets, yielding aerobic and metabolic benefits, the latter of which may continue for up to 72 hours after the workout has been completed.

Improved VO2 max

VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen you can take in while exercising. According to Dr. Mercola, ‘our VO2 max can be used as a measure of cardiovascular endurance…HIIT and HICT elicits similar and sometimes greater gains in VO2 max despite significantly lower exercise volume.’

Is HIIT safe for seniors?

HIIT and HICT may seem too intense for the elderly, but, according to Dr. Mercola, ‘rest assured you can perform HIIT at any age and still reap major benefits. The only difference is that the older you are the lower your maximum heart rate will be, and the more gradually you will want to increase your repetitions.’

HIIT can be adjusted to your needs. You can still get benefits from working out at a slightly lower intensity; you simply increase the time you work out to make up for it. You’ll still be working out very intensely, remember, so your total workout will still be short, relatively speaking. Dr. Mercola typically recommends a HIIT session lasting 20 minutes, as follows:

  1. Warm up for three minutes.
  2. Exercise as hard and fast as you can for 30 seconds. You should feel like you couldn’t possibly go on another few seconds.
  3. Recover for 90 seconds.
  4. Repeat the high-intensity exercise and recovery seven more times (eventually, but start with just two or three repetitions).


As with all exercise regimes, it’s important to consult with a medical professional before embarking on a new program. And, while apparently effective, HIIT and HICT are not the only fitness games in town.

Swimming, yoga, racquet sports, and many other competitive athletic activities all help. That said, it appears that HIIT and HICT get positive results more effectively and faster than virtually any exercise you can engage in as you age.

Dave Ritcey, The Ritcey Team, Scotia Wealth Management