Between the ages of 24 and 50, most men lose about five pounds of muscle. Their biceps and triceps shrivel away leaving only a jiggly mess of skin and fat trailing from the shoulder to the fingertips. From 50 and on, men lose about 1 percent of muscle every year. Muscles are important for more than just appearance. They spell a longer, healthier life—a significantly lesser chance of encountering diseases, accidents, and mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
The signs of an eroding body—brittle bones, stiff joints, slumped posture—aren’t an inescapable fate. If you go out of your way to resistance train, there’s no reason you can’t maintain a strong musculature well into your 90s. Among all fields of health care, the verdict is unanimous: lifting weights is crucial, whether or not you give a damn about how you look at the beach. Let’s examine: What happens if you don’t lift?
Strength training, it turns out, is good for gray matter. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that men who performed three weightlifting sessions per week for just 2 months decreased their risk of stroke by 4 percent. On average, their blood-pressure lowed by eight points.
If you don’t lift, you can pretty much guarantee that one day, you’ll suffer a debilitating fracture in your hip or vertebrae. That might not sound like the end of the world—that’s what happens when you age, right?—but Mayo Clinic researchers found a whopping 30 percent of men die within one year of having such an injury. In addition, the bones of the spine deteriorate over time, causing rounded shoulders and a humped back. According to the Journal of Applied Physiology, men who lifted for 16 weeks raised their osteocalcin (a marker of bone growth) by 19% as well as increasing their hip-bone density by nearly 4 percent.
For every pound of muscle a man loser, he gains about a pound of fat. If the numbers on the scale are rising despite your weight remaining the same, that’s a sign that your muscles are wearing away. Eventually—probably soon—that’ll catch up with you. A pound of fate takes up 18 percent more space on the body than a pound of muscle. The best way to fend off fat is to retain—and increase—your muscles.
In addition to not being able to see your toes, you may not be able reach them, either. Between 30 and 70, flexibility decreases anywhere from 20 to 50 percent. This leaves you susceptible to injury that can make it even harder to ever turn it around and start exercising. In a study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, it was found that three full-body workouts per week, for a 16 week period, increases hip and shoulder flexibility by at least 30 percent and improves sit-and-reach test scores by over 10 percent.
Food gives the body energy, and it actually takes some energy to digest the food. Someone who doesn’t lift will probably burn off 15-20 percent of the calories they’ve consumed, but someone who just lifted weights will burn as much as 73 percent. An American of average weight could lose 25 points in a year without making any changes to his diet if he were to begin lifting before one meal per day.
Lastly, the overarching mechanism that dictates everything else: your own head. One 2004 study conducted by the University of Alabama found that older men who worked out regularly over the course of six months improved their scores on measures of tension, anger, confusion, frustration, sleep quality, and overall happiness. The more you lift, the easier and more routine it becomes. Over time, you’ll likely find that lifting has become much easier, much more routine, and more and more rewarding as you’ve gotten better and better.