A pioneer in the field of exercise science research, Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., says that the aging process can be reversed, as shown by his most recent study conducted at the Health & Fitness/Research Center at Quincy College.
By Patricia Abbate
Quincy – Bounding effortlessly from the Health and Fitness/Research Center to his office across the hall in the basement at Quincy College, Dr. Wayne Westcott takes a perch on an exercise ball next to his desk and talks excitedly about the findings of a 15-month study recently completed at the Center.
The research study is just the latest of the dozens that he’s conducted in the field of exercise science over his career. Westcott’s office bookcases are neatly stacked yet completely filled with close to 90 prestigious peer-reviewed journals touting his research. An impressive array of awards recognizing his work are displayed on the tops of a bank of tall file cabinets and wall shelves. As the college’s Professor of Exercise Science and department head, director of its fitness center, and driving force behind the research studies, Westcott’s days are full and varied.
This particular study focused on weight loss realized through a combination of exercise and diet, and was conducted over a 15-month period, a long study, according to Westcott. “This study is one of only two that have ever shown that you can lose fat without losing muscle (the other study was conducted in Canada). Our group lost fat and added muscle,” he says with emphasis. Westcott continues, “The reason diets don’t work and that 90 percent of dieters regain the weight is because when you lose fat, you also lose muscle. When you lose muscle, your metabolism slows down, and when your metabolism slows down, you can’t keep the weight off. It’s almost impossible. So if you avoid the muscle loss, the diet has a fighting chance to work.” He further notes, “if you can add muscle, effectively reversing the aging process, you can sustain weight loss.”
But this study took a more in-depth look at group participants. “Studies are meaningless until we do the follow up,” Westcott notes, and this is where this study differs from any other. “We followed our group for nine months following the study, and they continued to add muscle while losing fat. No study has ever shown this.”
In fact, just this past June Westcott was invited to present the study findings at Harvard Medical School’s international conference on obesity. “The doctors understood and were quite excited about the research,” he says. Other invitations followed as well as extensive articles covering the study’s findings in peer-reviewed publications.
Older adults and bone loss
Wescott cites some sobering statistics about the aging process, as he notes, “The average woman over age 50 is going to lose about 10 pounds of muscle every decade. So by the young age of 60, she’s lost 10 pounds of muscle already. She may only have had 50 pounds of muscle to begin with, so she’s down to 40 pounds of muscle. The next decade will be even worse, as this is progressive.” But serious physical problems start to show up in the following decades.
“What’s really concerning, is once a woman reaches the age of 50, she’s also going to lose approximately 20-30 percent — or one fifth– of her bone mass every decade. It’s no wonder there are so many folks with osteoporosis, which leads to falls, fractured bones, and loss of functional mobility.” But, he explains, “this can be prevented!”
Westcott cites the example of an 89-year-old woman who works out on a regular basis at the Center. In 2009, then 79, she entered Westcott’s osteoporosis study as she had recently been diagnosed with the condition. She and others in her group, who participated in strength training while adding protein to their diets, realized a 1 percent gain in bone mass in just nine months. Ten years later she is still working out at the gym and her bone density tests show she continues to maintain her bone mass and has not lost any bone, proving the study’s methodology is still working.
“In 2009, orthopedic surgeons said it was impossible to add bone mass, but the study showed that it can be done,” he emphasizes.
People that didn’t do the study, the control group, lost 1 percent bone mass during the nine months, and those that did just strength training didn’t lose or gain. But the group that did strength training and took extra protein, gained the one percent. As Westcott explains, “you have to have the building blocks to maintain and add muscle and bone, as muscle and bone are built with proteins. Most older adults don’t get enough protein because they don’t metabolize it well. Once we are over age 60, we can only utilize about half as much of the protein we eat as we did when we were 30.” Strength training conditions the body to metabolize the muscle and bone building proteins.
“If you’re over 50, and do strength training but don’t take extra protein, you won’t build muscle. And just taking extra protein doesn’t work. You need the stimulus of strength training to metabolize and build muscle and bone.” Westcott advises.