Life Extension Magazine®

Issue: Aug 2018

Fred Bartlit, Steven Droullard, and Dr. Marni Boppart, authors of Choosing the StrongPath: Reversing the Downward Spiral of Aging

Drawing on their book, Choosing the StrongPath: Reversing the Downward Spiral of Aging, these three authors explain how to avoid the death spiral of strength-sapping sarcopenia.

By Garry Messick.

Dr. Marni Boppart
Dr. Marni Boppart
Fred Bartlit and Steven Droullard
Fred Bartlit (left) and
Steven Droullard (right)

It’s called sarcopenia, and Choosing the StrongPath authors Fred Bartlit, Steven Droullard, and Dr. Marni Boppart want you to avoid succumbing to it.

Virtually written off as an inevitable process by mainstream medicine, sarcopenia is the degenerative loss of skeletal muscle and strength largely due to inactivity and poor diet. Sarcopenia is associated with frailty in old age, but Bartlit, Droullard, and Boppart insist it’s the result of a tendency to become more sedentary over time, rather than aging per se. They also insist sarcopenia is not an inevitable malady, and that in fact its progression can be slowed and even reversed with a program of strength training—particularly the one they describe in their book and call the StrongPath.

Avoiding or reversing sarcopenia is even more important than it might seem at first blush. Much more than just limiting mobility or increasing the tendency to fall as one ages, sarcopenia is associated with higher risk of infections and pneumonia, and linked to diseases of aging such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.

Fred Bartlit is a highly regarded attorney who has worked for presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Steven Droullard is a faculty member at the University of Philosophical Research in Los Angeles and a business advisor to William R. Hearst II. Dr. Marni Boppart heads the Molecular Muscle Physiology Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Together, the authors answer our questions and address topics such as the detrimental effects of sarcopenia, the failure of mainstream medicine to properly address this health crisis, and the importance of maintaining muscle-training exercise as an ingrained habit.

What you need to know

Age-related muscle loss, otherwise known as sarcopenia, can result in serious complications. Many people view this as a natural process that cannot be avoided, but Dr. Marni Boppart thinks otherwise. She is a contributing author on the new book, Choosing the Strong Path, which explains how sarcopenia can be prevented or reversed.

LE: Now that people are generally living longer than ever, what is the first step in beating sarcopenia and staying healthy?

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FB, SD, & MB: To combat the change in lifespan, you need to shift your mentality. Instead of fearing age or aging, embrace it. Make it great. Few realize this opportunity exists as a choice. Being a centenarian can be a positive experience. Our behavior determines the path we choose. Here’s an example: In 2015, the Huffington Post reported on a guy named Fred Winter, living in Michigan, who was 100 years old at the time and still doing 100 push-ups a day. He began working on his strength and fitness around age 70. He reportedly competes in (and wins) senior games, too. So the choice is ours: We can embrace this gift of years or we can squander it.

LE: So lack of exercise can have significantly negative effects on aging individuals.

FB, SD, & MB: To our knowledge, no one—not clinicians or others—has adequately sounded the alarm on the detrimental impact of sedentary behavior. If we are going to embrace the gift of longevity, it’s important that we fully understand how to change our behavior so those additional years represent a better quality of life rather than a decades-long dreary period of increasing disability, frailty, chronic disease, and mental decline.

The impact of our sedentary lifestyle on our musculoskeletal system is pervasive. Statistics confirm that one-third of adults are inactive and another one-third is not sufficiently active to sustain health. While we lose muscle and bone as we age, we gain fat. Body fat is not only unsightly, but it also initiates a systemic inflammatory response that can harm tissue health. While some deterioration in function and health is noticeable in certain people early on, most will not be fully aware of its impact until much later in life, as the cycle of musculoskeletal tissue loss and fat infiltration progressively increases.

LE: Talk a little, if you would, about why sarcopenia is so insidious.

FB, SD, & MB: We are all prone to this disease that causes strength and muscle loss, and we need to understand it to combat it. We have learned from experience that frailty does not have to come with age. In fact, it is possible to become stronger as older adults than we were in our youth. You can counteract this loss of muscle tissue with strength training, which will also have a positive effect on many other chronic diseases.

Beginning in our thirties, every single human being on Earth develops this condition, which stealthily and steadily sucks away our strength. Every year we get weaker and weaker unless we proactively work against this default trend. The erosion of our strength accelerates in our 50s and continues to increase as we move into our 60s.

There is an exponential increase in loss of lean tissue after 75. The result is that all of us are trapped in a death spiral. As we lose strength, we become less active, and as we become less active, we lose more strength. Unknowingly, we spiral downward.

By the time we are in our 60s, we have lost a lot of our strength. This loss makes it hard to recover if we lose our balance, and sooner or later, most of us suffer a bad fall—a fall that may even break a hip. The resulting couple of weeks of bed rest, or even simply inactivity, cause a further dramatic reduction in strength, which in turn further reduces our activity. We then become much more cautious, because we can feel how close we are to falling again in our steadily weakening condition. Eventually, we endure a series of falls, each time further reducing our activity. In a few years, we can basically become disabled, confined to an easy chair, walker, or wheelchair, as the unending spiral of injury and reduced activity grinds us into worthlessness.

LE: How can simple muscle loss be so damaging, and even lethal?

FB, SD, & MB: Muscles are the body’s primary reserve of amino acids. They are key to the health of our immune system. When the reserve becomes depleted by 10%, our immune system is compromised, and we are at a higher risk of infections. At minus 20%, we suffer from decreased wound healing, weakness, and still higher risk of infection. At minus 30%, we break out with bedsores, catch pneumonia, and suffer a general inability to heal. At minus 40%, death looms, and pneumonia overtakes many that have not already succumbed to chronic diseases.

Heart disease, many forms of cancer, type II diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and other chronic diseases may be prevented or improved when we address the causes of deteriorated strength associated with aging.

We are now slowly learning that strength is critically important. As our lives unfold, we don’t think about this much. We simply assume we will get older and stay about the same in our physical strength. But it turns out that we are unknowingly facing this death spiral of lost strength that ruins our enjoyment of life long before death.

LE: Is the threat of sarcopenia finally getting the attention it deserves from medical professionals?

FB, SD, & MB: It is remarkable that sarcopenia research and analysis is still a very new aspect of medical science. Only in the past few years has this disease become an increasingly urgent subject of academic discussion in journals and conferences. This important subject remains unknown to most physicians. In fact, the first major collection of research and discussion papers was assembled only a few years ago in 2012 by Dr. Alfonso Jose Cruz-Jentoft, an expert in geriatric medicine in Spain, titled Sarcopenia.

According to Dr. Cruz-Jentoft, the key to keeping our strength as we age is engaging in regular weight training. He explains, “RE (resistance exercise) may be considered the primary preventive or treatment strategy in the battle against sarcopenia.”

So this specific type of exercise not only helps prevent loss in muscle strength but can also help to treat and reverse this disease.

LE: For people to get started on exercising, you suggest establishing a habit. How might that work?

FB, SD, & MB: If you’re going to be exercising at home, it may begin as small as doing one push-up or one squat. More important than the size of the effort to begin with is learning how to condition a habit by trying something like fixing the time when you’re going to automatically do your push-up or squat, without thinking. Perhaps when you first wake up. Do it every day. Repetition is key to making something a habit, and doing something easy, automatically every day will make the action a habit more quickly. Focus first and foremost on showing up for the routine and establishing the habit.

After that, repeat the action consistently. Increase the number of repetitions incrementally every week on the same day. This will prepare you for the strength training that lies ahead.

LE: What’s your advice for exercising at a gym?

FB, SD, & MB: If you are going to start going to a gym, and we strongly recommend that you do, fix the days of the week and the time you will be going. Do not leave the question of where or when open. This is essential. This is part of building a successful habit. If you can afford a trainer, it is a great help in many ways. You’ll find it easier to get to an appointment when you have made a commitment to someone else. This technique may help you get over the hump of establishing a habit, and the trainer will tell you what to do, so that you don’t have to think about that. Less thinking helps in habit formation. So does a present-moment focus on the sensations you are experiencing during a workout.

Choosing the StrongPath
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LE: Finally, what would you most like readers to keep in mind if they follow your “StrongPath” program?

FB, SD, & MB: Results occur quickly, particularly if you are a beginner or have not been exercising seriously for some time. Don’t let the gym or your own fear intimidate you. You can do this.

Those who would like to learn more about the StrongPath can visit our website at Strongpath.com, where you can read about case studies, download and print our workout logs, watch training videos, and learn about the latest trends in resistance training and nutrition.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.

To order Choosing the StrongPath, call 1-800-544-4440.

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