Reversing muscle loss


DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Can I reverse sarcopenia, or just slow it down? I read your recommendations. What I would like to know is what can I do for my thighs? How often should I do it? And I’d like something for my stomach. — J.H.

ANSWER: For readers: Sarcopenia is muscle shrinkage that comes with age. Weightlifting stops the wasting away of muscles and builds them up. Older people are not going to develop the same muscle size that a 20-year-old can, but they can see a marked improvement in their strength and an increase in muscle size through weightlifting.

For your specific thigh problem, the squat is a good exercise. From the standing position, you bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the ground. You don’t have to touch your heels with your buttocks. Lower yourself only to the position I mentioned. Farther than that can hurt the knees. Start out doing the exercise with no additional weight. Your body weight is enough at first. As you gain experience and strength, you can use additional weight, either a barbell supported behind your neck and on your shoulders or you can hold on to weights. When you start using weights, exercise three times a week with a full day’s rest between exercise sessions.

For your abdomen, the bicycle maneuver is one of the best exercises. Lie on the floor and raise your legs straight up. Then bend the knees to a right angle so your lower legs are parallel to the floor. Now start pedaling as though you were riding a bike.

Readers interested in starting an exercise program can obtain the booklet on exercise by writing to: Dr. Donohue — No. 1301, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Some time ago, you wrote about an exercise that could be done to strengthen abdominal muscles. You mentioned that there was another exercise, but it requires doing it at a gym. You did not describe that exercise. Would you do so for those of us who go to a gym on a regular basis? — C.N.

ANSWER: Gyms have all sorts of abdominal exercise equipment for their members. The one I was thinking of is the “captain’s chair,” the structure that you hoist yourself onto by resting your body weight on your forearms. The exercise then involves drawing your knees to your chest. You can do the same exercise hanging from a cross pole, but it’s much more tiring in that position.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: When you and others tell people to walk for exercise, exactly what does that mean in terms of speed? — L.M.

ANSWER: The ideal walking speed is 3 to 3.5 miles an hour or 1 mile in 17 to 20 minutes. If that’s too fast a pace for you, walk at a speed you can maintain for at least 10 minutes. Every week try to increase the tempo and the time spent walking. The ultimate goal is to walk for 30 minutes every day of the week — if possible.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Have you heard anything about drinking milk to increase muscle strength and size without adding any fat to your body? How much milk are you supposed to drink? — D.M.

ANSWER: I believe you’re referring to information that appeared in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. The subjects were young women who were put on a weightlifting program. Half the women drank two 8-ounce glasses of nonfat milk right after they finished exercise and again in one hour. Compared with their classmates who didn’t drink milk, the milk drinkers gained no weight but they did increase their muscle mass. In other words, they grew muscles, while they reduced body fat. If you try this, let me know the results.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from