Aging can come with some unwanted side effects. One of them is loss of muscle.
Muscle mass peaks for men in their early 40s, then slowly begins to decline with age. This age-related muscle loss is called sarcopenia. Sarcopenia can make it difficult to do everyday activities like carrying groceries, kneeling or completing household chores. It’s also associated with an increased risk of falls and loss of independence.
Muscle is also important for metabolism and preventing type 2 diabetes because it’s where the body stores sugars. Muscle also helps improve resiliency to physical and psychological stressors, so maintaining it throughout your life can help improve your overall quality of life.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to help maintain muscle mass, so you can keep carrying grocery bags, maintaining your home and competing on the pickleball court.
The majority of people over age 60 are not getting the physical activity they need. Too much time spent sitting contributes to muscle loss. People who are physically inactive can lose up to 5% of muscle mass per decade of life after age 30. The best way to turn it around is to exercise. Even if you’ve lost some muscle mass, you can get it back.
Gradually increase your activity until you reach at least 150 minutes per week. You can choose whatever movement is enjoyable to you Just make sure to hit all your muscle groups. Try a combination of:
- Strength exercises. Lift weights or do exercises like sit-ups, push-ups and squats that use body weight as resistance. Try to do 2 to 4 sessions a week.
- Balance exercises. Some examples include walking heel to toe in a straight line as if on a balance beam, standing on one leg or standing up from a chair repeatedly.
- Aerobic training. Get your heart rate up with activities like dancing, pickleball, biking, swimming and walking.
People who are just getting started with strength training should use weight machines rather than free weights. The machines, found at most gyms, isolate muscle groups and add a layer of safety. They allow new users to learn the technique while reducing risk of injury. And consider working with a personal trainer, who can assess your needs and help you get started on a plan. A trainer can also teach you specific exercises, work with you on adaptations and help you progress safely so you can reach your fitness goals.
Eat protein with every meal
Protein is essential for feeding muscles. With age, the body becomes less effective at breaking down and using protein.
To optimize how the body uses protein, adults over 60 should get 0.72 to 0.81 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So, a 200-pound person would need 144 to 162 grams of protein each day.
Try to have roughly equal portions of protein at each meal. For a 200-pound person, this would be 48 grams per meal. That’s about the amount of protein in:
- 2 eggs, 1 cup of milk and 2 slices of whole-grain bread
- A sandwich, 1 cup of chicken or chickpea salad, and 2 slices of whole-grain bread
- 3 ounces of salmon, 1 cup of baked beans, 1 cup of green peas and 1 cup of milk
If that sounds like too much to eat, ask your healthcare provider or dietitian about protein shakes. Don’t forget about other healthy foods, too. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains give your body the nutrients it needs to fight illness and heal injuries.
Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids might help with muscle mass and function. Omega-3s are naturally found in fatty fish, like salmon, and flaxseed. If fish, like salmon and mackerel, isn’t on your regular menu, your healthcare provider might recommend a supplement.
Mayo Clinic on Healthy Aging
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