The biggest asset you have going into old age is muscle. As we age, our bodies naturally undergo several changes that can lead to a decline in muscle mass and density. This can result in a wide range of health problems, such as reduced mobility, increased risk of falls, and lower overall quality of life. However, the good news is that it is possible to maintain and even improve your muscle mass and density as you get older with the right strategies.
Muscle density refers to the amount of muscle tissue in a given area of your body. Maintaining good muscle density is crucial for overall health, particularly as we age.
Research has shown that sufficient muscle density is associated with several health outcomes, including:
Our bodies experience many changes as we become older, which can lead to a decline in muscle mass, also known as sarcopenia. Research suggests that muscle mass can decline by up to 8% every decade after the age of 40 (4). This can lead to a range of health problems. For instance, sarcopenia can lead to a decrease in muscle power, which is an important predictor of falls in older adults. One study found that low muscle mass and strength were independently associated with an increased risk of falls in older adults (5). Reduced muscle mass has been linked to a decline in functional mobility, which can limit an individual’s ability to perform activities of daily living.
Here are some examples of loss of muscle mass and power::
Although the impact of reduced muscle mass and mobility can vary depending on the person and the severity of their condition, in general, maintaining muscle mass and strength through regular physical activity can help to preserve functional mobility.
Building muscle into old age requires a combination of regular physical activity, a healthy diet, and lifestyle factors such as getting enough sleep and reducing stress. One of the most effective ways to build muscle is through weight training or resistance exercises. These types of exercises involve using external weights or your own body weight to challenge your muscles and stimulate growth.
It’s important to start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and frequency of your workouts as your body adapts. Aim to do resistance exercises at least two to three times per week, with a focus on targeting all major muscle groups. This can include exercises such as squats, lunges, push-ups, and bicep curls.Research has shown that weight training can improve balance, gait, and overall mobility in older adults (6).
Other exercises that can be beneficial for improving mobility and overall physical function include yoga, tai chi, and pilates. These types of exercises focus on building strength, balance, and flexibility, and can be particularly useful for those with joint pain or other mobility issues.
In addition to regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet is crucial for maintaining and building muscle mass. This means consuming adequate amounts of protein, which is essential for muscle growth and repair. Aim to consume about 0.7-1.0 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you may want to aim for a protein intake of 105-150 grams per day. It’s important to note that protein intake should be spread throughout the day and combined with a balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods. Good sources of protein include organic lean meats, fish, eggs, beans, and tofu.
Supplements can also be useful for maintaining and building muscle mass. One of the most popular supplements for muscle growth is creatine, which has been shown to be effective for improving muscle strength and size in older adults (7). Other supplements that may be beneficial for muscle growth include beta-alanine, branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), and whey protein.
One way to determine your level of fitness is by doing the sitting-rising Test. This is a functional fitness test that assesses your ability to perform a fundamental movement pattern: sitting down and standing up from the floor without using any support. The test evaluates multiple physical attributes, including balance, flexibility, and muscle strength, particularly in the lower body.
Here are the steps to perform the sitting-rising test:
The primary goal of the sitting-rising test is to determine a person’s degree of functional fitness and their ability to perform daily activities, such as sitting on the floor, bending over to pick up objects, or getting up from a chair. The test can be particularly useful for older adults or individuals with mobility issues to identify any functional limitations.
Additionally, the sitting-rising test has been shown to be a predictor of mortality risk. One study found that individuals who scored poorly on the sitting-rising test were more likely to have a higher risk of death compared to those who scored well on the test. Therefore, the test can also serve as a general indicator of overall health and fitness levels (8).
Here is a video of the test and ways to improve it.
Maintaining and improving muscle mass and density is crucial for overall health and well-being, especially as we get older. By incorporating regular exercise, a healthy diet, prioritizing getting enough sleep and reducing stress, it is possible to maintain and even improve your muscle mass and density as you age. So, start incorporating these strategies into your daily routine and keep your muscles strong and healthy for years to come!