How to Prevent Muscle Loss as you Age - Tips for Seniors
Let’s talk about muscle mass and why it’s important. Did you know that you have more than 600 muscles in your body? Muscles help you lift things, get up from a seated position, play sports, breathe, circulate blood, digest food, and support your body in all forms of movement. There are voluntary muscles that you can control and involuntary muscles or smooth muscles that you have no control over. Voluntary muscles are connected to bones by tendons and help you move when the tendon contracts. Smooth muscles help move food through your digestive system and the cardiac muscle pumps blood through the body. Healthy muscles help you move and maintain mobility and keep your body strong and erect. Muscles play an important part in balance and if we allow our muscles to atrophy it can impede our mobility and balance leading to falls. Strong muscles also protect our joints as they support the joint during movement keeping the full weight of our bodies from impacting the joint itself. With all of these important functions at stake, it is important for seniors to actively work to keep good muscle tone and to halt muscle loss. Here are some things that you can do to facilitate healthy muscles as you age.
Lift Weights but Take it Slow
Start small if you are considering weightlifting for healthy muscles. Focus on legs and abs one day, arms back, and shoulders another, or some combination thereof. Leave the next day for rest or switch to a different body area to focus on. You should not train the same body part multiple days in a row as lifting results in microtears that need to heal. This process of microtears followed by healing is how we build muscle. Keep your routine simple to start so that you don’t get overwhelmed and too sore. Work with a professional trainer or at a minimum have the gym staff show you how to correctly use the weights and machines. Incorrect form can result in injury that could set you back for months while you recover.
All of us have experienced sore muscles after overdoing it or participating in a new workout regimen. Some soreness is normal but if you overdo it this can result in muscle strain. A Strain can be mild by just overstretching or severe with actual muscle tears. Lifting can be a source of muscle strain or tears and happen most commonly in the back muscles. These injuries can be serious and can result in a painful injury requiring rehab over a period of months, and can impede everyday activities. Contact sports such as soccer, hockey, and football can result in serious muscle strains and injuries. Ligaments and tendons can be overstretched or pulled resulting in an injury known as a sprain.
Focus on Form over Repetition
We have all seen those people at the gym pressing the weights as fast as they can go becoming breathless and often grunting and groaning. No need to put yourself through a cardio-inducing routine of weight lifting. It is not effective and will more than likely result in injury by over-training. Weight lifting is more effective if you do fewer reps and do them as slowly as you possibly can. This method keeps the muscles under tension for longer and that is what helps to build muscle. If you are lifting a weight that is challenging enough, you should feel tired and need to rest for one minute between sets. If you are not feeling muscle fatigue after a set, try upping the weights as opposed to executing more reps.
Proteins are the building blocks of muscles and are essential to their growth. Consider a diet overhaul if you are serious about stopping muscle loss as you age. Are you getting enough protein or is your diet trending toward high carbohydrates? Some of the best foods for muscle building are eggs, lean cuts of meat, fish, skim milk, beans, and yogurt. To build muscle you will need to eat 1 to 2 grams of protein for each pound of body weight per day. You also need enough carbs, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats for optimal muscle recovery. Carbohydrates will also fuel your workout giving you the energy to undertake the resistance exercises needed to build muscle. Also, consider the foods that you should not eat like sugar and empty calories from processed foods. Overconsumption of these foods will cause you to store fat over the muscles so that you will never actually see the fruits of your labor. Although we are focused on muscle building to maintain balance and healthy mobility as we age, we all want to look as good as we can so why not cut the junk or at least cut back?
Take Rest Days
This seems counterintuitive, but it is very important to make sure your body can recover after you lift. This does not mean you cannot move the next day but mix it up. Maybe try a power walk with a friend the day after you lift. Or how about a yoga class or some cardio? If you are feeling run down and tired chances are you may be doing too much. Try to shorten the workout and be sure you are actively hydrating as dehydration can make you feel tired and drained.
Don’t Lean into the Aging Excuse
You are aging but that does not have to mean becoming sedentary and feeble. Our bodies are designed to move at every age. Don’t view yourself as too old to exercise as this mindset can accelerate unhealthy aging. Sitting and resting too much after injury or illness is the downfall of many people as they age. Muscles start to atrophy within 72 hours and you can undo the gains you made quickly. If you have an injury or illness, work with your therapist to come up with a rehab plan as soon as possible. If you are bedridden, there are exercises that you can do to get a jump on the rehab and help you pass the time in a more healthful way. You will have to consult a trainer or therapist to ensure you are not overdoing or injuring yourself impeding recovery.
Strength is one of the most important components of healthy aging so invest time in working for your muscle groups. This will pay big dividends as far as mobility, balance, and maintaining an active lifestyle as you age. As always, consult with your doctor or trusted healthcare professional before you undergo an exercise program or change your diet.