Last week, I had the privilege of watching my son compete at the YMCA national long course swim meet in Maryland. I spent hours watching hundreds of athletic teenage bodies on the swim deck competing at an elite level. These swimmers are muscular fine-tuned machines! As I watched them, I was struck by the jarring contrast between these kids and the residents of my grandmother’s nursing home. Once young and active and muscular, many of them struggle even to stand up. And the bad news is, if you’re over 30 years old, you’ve likely already begun to lose some of that beautiful, youthful muscle.
Age-related muscle loss, called sarcopenia, is a part of the aging process. After age 30, adults begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% of their muscle mass per decade. Without intervention, it can lead to a loss of 50% of muscle by 70 years old! Sarcopenia sufferers have trouble performing the basic functions of life like walking up stairs and getting up from a chair. They experience loss of mobility and balance and can ultimately face a shortened life expectancy.
Thankfully, sarcopenia is preventable! According to Dr. Thomas W. Storer at Brigham and Women's Hospital. "It takes work, dedication, and a plan, but it is never too late to rebuild muscle and maintain it." Here are two things you can incorporate into your life right now to help you gain or maintain muscle mass.
Make (more) muscles!
Staying active is critical! Resistance training (RT), in particular, will help build muscle, even if started later at an advanced age. In a study cited by Howstuffoworks.com, older adults who participated in RT for 45 minutes three times a week saw an average increase of 32 percent for muscle fiber and a 30 percent increase in strength in just 12 weeks. In another study focused on building lower body strength of 32 60+ year old men, the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found that Pilates exercises (a form of RT you know I was going to mention!) led to significant improvement in all exercises they tested for strength of knee extensors and flexors, postural balance and aspects of the health-related quality of life of older adults!
Feed those Muscles
Studies suggest that older adults need even more protein than younger adults because their bodies don’t convert protein into muscle as efficiently as they did when they were younger. How much protein is enough? Several sources suggest 1.0 - 1.5 g/kg protein per day spread throughout the day in meals of
25-30 grams of protein each is ideal for preventing sarcopenia. That means someone weighting 150 lbs should be eating 68 – 102 grams of protein daily. Check out your own diet to see how much protein you’re eating. If you’re like me, you’ll be shocked to discover it is much less than what is recommended.
Maintaining muscle now is much easier than trying to build it when you’re older. So what are you waiting for? Get moving today to help keep strong and healthy for tomorrow!