Ask the Doctors: Weight training can help keep down body fat percentage

Perhaps no other exercise will help build muscle mass as effectively as weight-training. Working with weights will also help maintain and strengthen your muscles.

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Working with weights helps maintain and strengthen your muscles. Staying strong plays a key role in maintaining agility and balance and helps protect against falls. 

Working with weights helps maintain and strengthen your muscles. Staying strong plays a key role in maintaining agility and balance and helps protect against falls.

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Dear Doctors: My body fat percentage has gone up quite a bit. I was surprised because I haven’t gained weight. I’m a 66-year-old woman, I walk at least a mile every day, and I play tennis. My doctor says I should start lifting weights, too. Can’t I just do longer walks?

Dear Reader: Though we rely on the bathroom scale to let us know if we’re edging up from a healthy weight, another metric of health and well-being is body fat percentage.

That’s the measure of how much of your body is made up of lean muscle mass and how much is fat.

That’s important because a high proportion of body fat has been linked to adverse health effects including higher risk of developing poor blood sugar control, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and certain inflammatory conditions and cancers.

An increase in body fat percentage can occur without a corresponding change in weight. This is particularly true in older adults, who undergo metabolic changes as part of the aging process.

For women who have gone through menopause, an increase in body fat and a corresponding decrease in lean muscle mass is a common challenge. Because muscle is metabolically more active than fat, the loss of lean muscle mass decreases the metabolic rate. Over time, this leaves you increasingly vulnerable to weight gain.

Walking and sports like tennis have many health benefits. But neither will help build muscle mass as effectively as the weight-training your doctor recommended.

Working with weights also helps maintain and strengthen your muscles. Staying strong plays a key role in maintaining agility and balance and helps protect against falls.

And weightlifting has been shown to lessen anxiety, ease depression and raise your sense of well-being.

One type of resistance training uses weight machines or free weights. Other options include using resistance bands and weight-bearing exercises such as pushups, lunges and squats.

It’s recommended that newbie weight trainers of all ages start with an instructor or a group class to learn proper technique.

Many Medicare supplement plans include discounted or free gym memberships. Senior centers and gyms often offer weight-training classes targeted at older adults.

And let your doctor know you’re moving forward with this.

Dr. Eve Glazier and Dr. Elizabeth Ko are internists at UCLA Health.

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