When most people hear the word “power”, they think of huge football players smashing into each other at high speeds or basketball players soaring through the air to throw down a slam dunk. While these are certainly displays of great muscular power, sports aren’t the only instance where power is useful, nor are athletes the only people who need to generate it.
What is muscular power?
A simple definition is a combination of strength and speed. Speed is the key word here. Someone could lift a 10 lb weight at a very fast speed and produce much more power than someone lifting a 20 lb weight at a very slow speed. Even essential everyday movements, such as walking up or down the stairs or catching yourself from a stumble to avoid falling down, require significant muscular power.
Why care about power?
Most of us have heard all about how we lose strength as we age (inactivity is just as responsible for this, as are other changes within the body, but that’s a discussion for another time). What we don’t hear as much about is that muscular power is lost at an even faster rate than strength as we age, especially after the age of 50 or 60.
Additionally, compared to strength, power has repeatedly been shown to be much more predictive of one’s ability to function independently and easily complete daily tasks. When you look at both of these pieces of information — a very fast loss of power as we age and its importance in completing everyday tasks with ease — it quickly becomes clear just how important it is to maintain power as we get older.
With that information in your mind, below are five quick facts about muscular power that will hopefully change the way you think about this misunderstood physical attribute. Research has shown:
Fact # 1)
An increase in muscular power improves balance.
Fact # 2)
An increase in muscular power improves reaction time.
Fact # 3)
Both reaction time and balance play vital roles in avoiding injury as we age, especially in the prevention of falls.
Fact # 4)
Falls are a major cause of injury and even death in elderly populations. According to the CDC, 258,000 hip fractures occurred in those over 65 years of age in the United States alone in 2010. 95% of these were due to falls, costing an estimated 2.1 billion dollars, and resulting in a much higher mortality rate for victims after the fracture than their peers — one in five pass away within one year of the injury.
Fact # 5)
Healthy older and middle-aged individuals are completely capable of improving their muscular power — research has shown improvements at similar rates in both younger and older people.
Take Home Message
After reading the information above, the importance of muscular power in terms of maintaining function as we age and in the avoidance of serious injury should be abundantly clear.
As we get older, power is naturally lost. This is often compounded by the very common behavior of avoiding higher impact, “explosive” activities out of a misplaced fear that they’re “bad” for you.
Over time, this natural loss, avoidance of activities that require quick movements, and a host of other factors such as diet and genetics can lead an individual towards becoming extremely deficient in muscular power and therefore more prone to injury.
With this said, higher impact exercises must be done correctly and are certainly not appropriate for everyone. The way a person exercises to increase power may be very different from the way another person should do so. Care must be taken, and an educated professional should be involved when trying to increase muscular power.