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Health & Wellness

Maintaining Muscle as you Age


You take your car for regular routine maintenance. You service your appliances to keep them in working order. You tinker with things in your daily life that need tinkering. You realize the importance of doing this for the material things in your life- have you considered the things you need to do for your body to maintain optimal health? Maintaining muscle mass and utility is vital to having functional independence.

Age-related muscle loss, called sarcopenia, is a natural part of aging. After age 30, you begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% per decade. This muscle loss gains momentum in your 50s, and accelerates even more rapidly in your mid-70s. You can’t stop aging, but you can mitigate sarcopenia largely by way of exercise and diet. You have the power to build up what age is trying to tear down!

Research shows that both resistance and strength training increases muscle protein synthesis, which is the process your body uses to repair, grow, and strengthen muscle fibers. A recent meta-analysis published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise reviewed 49 studies of men ages 50-83 who did progressive resistance training and found that subjects averaged a 2.4 pound increase in lean body mass.

Typically, 20 to 30 minutes of resistance or strength training, three times a week is recommended, but even just one to two short resistance workouts each week can improve muscle mass and strength.  The key is to really tax your muscles and get your heart pumping!

Keep it simple: pick a specific time of day and make a routine of exercise. A typical training program might include:

  • 8 to 10 exercises that target all the major muscle groups
  • Sets of 12 to 15 reps, performed at an effort of about 5-7 on a 10-point scale
  • Two to three workouts per week.

As important as exercise is to building and maintaining muscle mass, without proper nutrition you are only helping yourself at half capacity.  Your diet plays a role in building muscle mass, with protein being the king of muscle food. The body breaks it down into amino acids, which is used to build muscle.

There are many ways to get extra protein in your diet. Meat, eggs, and milk are considered the best, as they provide the proper ratios of all the essential amino acids. Some healthy food and portions to aim for include:

  • 3.5 ounces of lean chicken or salmon
  • 6 ounces of plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup of skim milk
  • 1 cup of cooked beans
  • Supplemental protein (such as protein powder) added to yogurt, shakes, or oatmeal

Maintaining muscle goes a long way in supporting overall health and independence. No matter how old or out of shape you are, you can restore much of the strength you’ve lost over time.

To figure out if you have sarcopenia, Dr. John E. Morley geriatrician at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, and Theodore K. Malmstrom, Professor and department head of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience have developed a simple questionnaire that anyone can use. It asks questions regarding strength, climbing stairs, and falls among others. If you believe you may be suffering from sarcopenia and are ready to make a change for the better in your health, contact your doctor to get started.

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Read more articles by Angela Hohsfield Beck

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