Preserving muscle mass as you age


Preserving muscle mass as you age

They say there are two certainties in life: death and taxes.  Loss of muscle mass is another certainty to add to this list.  We may notice the number of the scale creeping up as we grow older but that weight gained – primarily fat – means we are losing precious muscle mass

This is why we should never take our muscle mass for granted.  Beginning around age 30, while the rates vary quite a bit, many of us will begin to lose muscle mass at the rate of 3 to 8 percent per decade. Once past the age of 50, the average person loses about 1% of muscle every year. 

The reason for this often has to do with changes in hormonal levels.  The male hormone testosterone and the female hormone estrogen are necessary to help build muscle but begin to decline with age.    In addition, there are changes in nerve and blood cells along with the body not converting amino acids to muscle tissue as efficiently.   

Other causes can be attributed to a person’s genes which influence how much they’re likely to lose.  Anytime anyone is sick or injured spending time in the hospital or at home lying around, reduces muscle.  After only a few days of disuse, muscles begin to lose mass, a process called atrophy or where our muscles begin to shrink in size with reductions in strength.  During immobilization, muscles that have been used frequently, such as the legs or arms, lose muscle mass quicker than those that are not.  A person’s age also influences the rate of muscle atrophy. 

Fortunately, muscle loss does not have to be inevitable.  There are certain steps all of us can do to prevent aging from reducing muscle mass and strength and instead help us preserve the muscle we have.  In fact, take heart that loss of muscle mass does not mean it is gone forever. But it does take work, dedication, and a plan.  When we set our mind to it, it is never too late to rebuild muscle and maintain it.  Here’s how:

1.     Strength Training with weights

Throughout life, lifting weights is a vital piece towards preserving muscle mass.  Think of weight training as the same thing as keeping your brain fit by reading, doing crossword puzzles, playing games, etc.

Our muscles need that workout several times each week in order to keep strong, maintain balance and stability and give us stamina. 

Each time you lift weights focus on muscle strengthening activities that work the major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders, and arms) at least two times each week. 

Strength training includes lifting weights, using resistance bands, push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups.  Start with light free weights or work with a personal trainer to help you understand the correct form while lifting without hurting yourself.

2.  Strength training without weights

For those without access to weight equipment or have physical limitations on amount of weight to lift, another very effective means of building muscles is to use your body weight. There are three moves in particular providing a full-body workout without lifting a pound.  They are squats, pull-ups and push-ups. 

Squats, plain and simple, build muscle.  More muscle means our body moves more efficiently making daily tasks of lifting or moving things so much easier.  As we age, strong legs are a must for good mobility

Nothing builds strong upper back, biceps, and shoulder muscles as pull-ups can.  Pull-ups are considered a compound exercise targeting multiple muscle groups.  Think of pull-ups in this way – they are to your upper body what squats are for your lower body.

Push-ups have long been considered to be the perfect exercise.  There is no other exercise that will work every major muscle group in the entire body quite like a push-up does – doing pull-ups come close.  Push-ups are considered a compound movement meaning it’s a multi-joint movement working several muscles or muscle groups at one time.  Performing a push-up engages and works the chest, shoulders, triceps, back, and abdomen while increasing upper body strength.   

3.  Adequate protein

Most of us have sufficient protein intake on a day to day basis.  In fact, eating additional protein offers no benefit than what we need and could be harmful for some people. 

If you consume about 3 serving of low-fat or fat-free dairy plus 3 servings of protein foods (lean meat, poultry, fish, or beans) this will provide quality sources of protein to facilitate in building muscle. 

A goal to strive for is to have between 25 to 30 grams of protein at each meal.  Our body can only use up to 30 grams of protein at a time and any over that amount, will be stored as fat. 

Here are protein amounts of common foods:

·      1 large egg – 6 grams

·      1 cup low-fat milk – 8 grams

·      1 cup low-fat yogurt – 12 grams

·      ½ cup low-fat cottage cheese – 14 grams

·      2 tablespoons peanut butter – 8 grams

·      1 cup quinoa – 8 grams

·      3 ounces of lean ground beef – 22 grams

·      3 ounces of skinless, baked chicken – 26 grams

·      3 ounces of grilled salmon – 21 grams


4.  Quality Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are necessary for the fuel they provide to the cells of the body keeping us feeling energized.  Our muscles love carbohydrates because carbs are partially converted to glycogen, which is stored in your muscles powering your workouts.  Around 50 to 60 percent of our total calories should be provided by carbs. 

Choose quality carbs – whole grain breads and cereals, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, low-fat milk and yogurt – all of these foods are good options to giving you that extra boost of energy.

5.  Focus on healthy fats

Fat can be a good thing when you wisely choose healthy types of fat.  Our body needs fat as an energy source for muscles during physical activity.  As a general guideline, fat should make up 20 to 35 percent of your total calories.

To get the best fat for overall health and muscle strength, focus on heart-healthy fats such as walnuts, almonds, avocados, fatty fish like salmon, halibut, mackerel, sardines, and trout.  Use extra-virgin olive oil or canola oil when cooking.

Fats provide more calories per gram than either protein or carbs.  Therefore, monitor your fat intake making healthy fats your fat of choice.