Now that I´m 41 I look back at pictures when I was 36 and I wonder, what happened to my shoulder muscles? I worked hard to develop my shoulders and I feel it is so much harder now to only maintain what I already have. Many people are not familiar with the term sarcopenia, the age related deterioration in muscle mass and function. This decline apparently begins at 40 and it just gets worse from there. The annual rate of decline is a steady 1%. These are pretty troublesome news folks.
As if that wasn´t enough of an ugly picture, the decline of muscle mass picks up speed after 55 at a rate where muscle gain happens slower than muscle loss. Say what?!
Miriam Nelson, Ph.D, director of the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Tufts University says that “healthy muscle is not just about being stronger and bigger”. In order to maintain healthy muscle one must combine a progressive strength training program with an aerobic exercise routine (a brisk walk or light jog will do). In addition, proper nutrition is important. According to Dr. Douglas Paddon-Jones, director of exercise studies for the General Clinical Research Center at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, insufficient protein coupled with a low calorie diet can contribute to sarcopenia.
Can anything be done? Yes! The answer is yes! Is there danger in not doing something about it? Yes, the answer is also a resounding yes!! Exercise brings many benefits now and later. So here are some steps to maintaining your muscle mass as you age.
Get in motion.
If you aren´t already, the most important thing you can do to maintain muscle mass is to exercise. As Miriam Nelson advises, a progressive strength training along with some aerobic exercise is the best combination. The resistance training will give you strength and mass, while that brisk walk, jog or bike ride will increase blood flow to your capillaries. Keep in mind that resistance training comes in many forms: with weights such as dumbells or machines, or using your own body weight to do squats, pushups, crunches. Exercise can prevent many age-related changes to muscles, bones and joints – so it is never too late to start living an active lifestyle and enjoying the benefits. Make exercise part of your daily routine and lifelong commitment since the deterioration in muscle mass occurs as we age.
Eat or drink your protein.
Protein doesn´t just come from animals, it can be plant based as well (lentils, chia and quinoa and kale are among the very popular). You can even get protein in a powder format and it can also be plant or animal based. How much protein? Here´s how you should do the math for your daily requirements: Body weight (in lbs), divide it in half and from there subtract 10. So for example if you weigh 140lbs, half of that is 70, minus 10 = 60 grams of protein to spread throughout the day. If you already suffer from sarcopenia you should consider 1 gram for every 2 lbs of body weight. In the same example that would be 70 grams of protein spread throughout the day. Those with renal issues should work with your doctors to determine appropriate protein intake.
Get some rest.
Sleep is very important to build and repair your muscles. Making sure you are getting a full night of rest will provide you with energy for the day ahead and maximize your effort in the weight room. It is very important to sleep in order to maintain and make progress. Read more on the importance of sleep.
Nutrition and supplementation.
I truly believe eating a well balanced diet from fresh vegetables, legumes and fruits as well as organic and grass fed animal proteins is the way to go. If however, you have some nutritional gaps or want to further support your overall health, there are several supplements that have shown great promise in combating sarcopenia: creatine, vitamin D and whey protein (mentioned above). Other nutrients such as glutamine and omega-3 fatty acids, have biological effects that promote healthy muscle mass.
Keep a journal.
Your journal will help you see your baseline and help you stay accountable. A food journal will help you see if your diet is unbalanced and will help you make adjustments. Add to that a workout journal and you can track your progress. You can go back and look at the journal to see how far you´ve come or what workouts worked best for you.
Not convinced yet?
If none of the above has given you that extra bit of motivation you needed to get exercising, there’s an overwhelming amount of evidence confirming that exercise is key to reduce disease, promote overall physical and emotional health and longevity. Evidence shows that exercise reduces the risk of heart disease as well as other chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, dementia and depression. Make it happen. As Nike says, just do it. Be consistent – strength train and get your aerobic exercise on. Make smart choices when you eat and if you´re going to supplement, then be strategic! All of these are your “pass go and collect” for a healthy and strong body.