Yesterday I met a once/yr client, a 50+ very fit, self-motivated to do cardio and resistance training (RT) on her own, who takes great pride in her petite, toned shape. She calls in every so oft for a new regimen, a new program, usually to get to her legs w/o building them up. Her weight has been steady for years upon years. But now, hormones changing and hormone replacements being manipulated, she has discovered some – OMG – belly tissue. I hesitate to refer to the extra as fat as her subcutaneous skinfold, which I tested and will share with you, was 5 – slightly better than 99% of people, even male athletes. (Confession: when I was in my best of shape, at about 3% fat, I had a 4 mm read there.) Also, she’s concerned that her legs, which she’d built up again with a great video routine she’d been doing, were now flabby since she scaled back. Why did she scale back? To get into her size zero. What to do????
Ok, so I did check her body fat after discussing aging skin. She knew about aging muscle but felt she’d stayed ahead of the curve on that. Her body fat – for those who’ve done skinfolds, you know how some women can be hard to pinch; well she was a Star Pei dog, easy to peel, even at the thigh – was 17.9%. I showed her a chart that compared athlete types, male and female, and she ranks better than most college athletes, and in some sports, better than male athletes. In other words, her belly fat, and her thigh wobble, was really nothing more than whatever fat she may have plus sagging skin.
Today, while helping the woman whose house I’m keeping get the pool ready for summer, I got a question: ok, Irv, what can I do to prevent…and then she showed me….her skin from sagging? Hence I felt I was getting a universal message, deal with sag.
We have several types of collagen in our bodies – a molecule that is tough, elastic, and when all is right in the world, lined up in parallel to ensure smoothness, as in muscle fibers. as we age, however, the collagen that makes up most of our skin changes to another type that is less elastic, less tough. Hence, older people – you pick the age but generally over 65, 70 – have thinner skin that droops more when lined up perpendicular to gravity. Now, what does that mean?
Well, stand up and look in the mirror. If you think your face is saggy now, try placing a mirror on the bathroom counter top and lean forward for a few seconds – it sags even more…toward the floor, i.e. perpendicular to gravity’s pull. Thus, when you raise your upper arm- in abduction – and flex the elbow – like making a biceps muscle – the back of your arm is perpendicular to gravity…and, unless you’re young, muscular, and lean – helps to be a male – your triceps sag. That’s life….
So, what can I tell folks who are concerned about sag? Well, for one thing, don’t make love on top….ok, you might be appalled by the idea but you should see what the person on the bottom sees! Likewise, expect the skin on your belly to pooch, esp while doing push ups or planks, even if your abs are totally flat; you could suck in but the skin will eventually sag. Don’t raise your arms and wave – teachers learn this early on but blackboards force the situation; computer writing will help their self esteem. Finally, unless you want to get fatter – which essentially fills the void of lean tissue and skin – or are able to build bigger muscle -which is what I told my client for her legs – as you age, your skin will sag.
Anecdotally, I’ve seen this more in WASP-y people than in darker skinned, esp olive skinned, people. For those who have reached that magic age, for whom it’s too late to have avoided sunlight (remember, boomers, being tanned was healthy in our youth), and for those who’ve either lost tons of weight or have less ability to bulk up with lean tissue, your skin will sag as you age. Gravity, I always say, will win, til you are flat on your back- in the coffin – but for now, you must learn to get comfortable in your, yes, your sagging skin. So keep doing RT and cardio for health and function, but it’s too late to order new grandparents. Sorry.