Have you ever wished you could look and feel younger? Stop wishing, and start moving!
Perhaps more than the appearance of fine lines, losing muscle mass can make you look and feel older. After the big 4-0, you start to lose muscle at the alarming rate of three kilograms per decade1. Muscle loss, also known as sarcopenia, doesn’t just make lifting your grandchildren and walking up stairs difficult. As muscle mass declines, your metabolism goes with it, making it harder to fight weight gain. With muscle loss, bones also weaken, increasing the likelihood that you may develop osteoporosis.
Fortunately, frailty does not have to be your destiny. Many factors can lead to lean muscle erosion, and thankfully the most important, lack of use (exercise) is within your control. If muscles are not constantly challenged, they weaken. In as little as two months of the right exercise, you can build strong, healthy muscles, regardless of your age.
To maintain strength and prevent fat gain, perform muscle building exercises at least 2 times per week. Lifting weights, either at the gym or at home, is an excellent way to build muscle. Day to day activities such as carrying groceries, and washing your car can also help maintain muscle mass. Aerobic exercise such as walking, running and biking are important to challenge your cardiovascular system, but they do not build strength.
In your strength training program, start with twelve repetitions of each exercise. Ensure that the weight is heavy enough that you can do the last repetition with good form, but you probably could not do another one. Challenge yourself with a combination of upper and lower body exercises, and choose at least one exercise that requires balance. Squats and step ups are good lower body exercises. Push-ups and arm curls work your upper body. If you are new to exercise, talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program. Once you are cleared by your doctor, a qualified fitness professional can set up a strength training program that is right for you.
In addition to your strength exercises, ensure you consume enough protein in your diet. Protein is required to build and repair muscle tissue. Aim to eat at least 0.8 grams per kilogram of ideal body weight per day. For example, if your healthy body weight is 70 kilograms, eat 56 grams of protein per day. Fish, skinless chicken breast, beans and low-fat dairy products are great sources of lean protein.
If you want to look and feel younger, and enjoy retirement, pick up a set of hand-weights and start using your muscles. Now is the best time to start!
1 Spirduso, Waneen, Physical Dimensions of Aging (Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1995), p. 68