Don't let the scales mislead you

Last updated 05:00 12/06/2013

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Recently I had an interesting conversation with a girlfriend of mine about her husband's body. "David is so lucky," she said. "He eats pretty much what he wants, but he's still got a tiny bum. He's got a bit of a stomach, but his weight stays the same."

David is in his 50s, keeps active but doesn't do any formal exercise apart from dragging the spoodle around the park for 20 minutes each morning. And unless hand-cut chips dipped in aioli qualify as a nutritious meal, he isn't that careful with his diet. But while David's wife is happy that his weight stays the same, the chances are that David is, in fact, getting fatter without even knowing it, due to a physiological process rather unflatteringly called sarcopenia.

Even though you may have a close relationship with your scales, the numbers that welcome you when you stand naked on them in the morning can be deceptive. Here's the thing: unless you're actively stimulating your muscles with regular resistance training, they will be gradually diminishing from as young as 20 to 25 years of age. Blokes naturally carry a fair bit more muscle than women, so at some level they're a bit more susceptible.

This muscle-loss-while-you-age process affects us all. Worryingly, as part of the giant conspiracy of ageing that the She-god levies on us, it actually accelerates as we get older. (I mean, really - as if we haven't got enough problems with saggy boobs and butt cheeks!) By the time we're 50, we're losing muscle mass at the rate of around 1 per cent a year.

So while Davo and his wife think he's doing OK, he's not. His bum is tiny because the biggest muscle groups on his body, his legs and gluteals, haven't had a resistance workout for 30 years or so. The muscles that form the vast majority of his total muscle mass have been slipping away over the years.

In the meantime, David has been gradually gathering fat around his waist. And this is the worst kind of fat - visceral fat, which accumulates inside the abdominal cavity between the organs. And when David jumps on the scales, the increased fat is offset by the decreased muscle, meaning his weight appears to remain constant - even though he is actually getting fatter. It's time for action!


You don't have to train à la Mr Universe to retain muscle mass. Try a pump class or add stair runs and air squats to outdoor workouts.

- Daily Life

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