Have you noticed that it takes longer to build muscle with exercise than it did earlier in your life? As the years have passed, have you noticed that you aren't quite as strong as you once were? Do you have less stamina? Well, my friend, you are not alone. The average adult loses 3-5% of their muscle mass per decade after age 30. (1) This decline in skeletal muscle, a condition called sarcopenia, is a natural process that occurs in everyone over time. (2)
There is an ongoing process of muscle cell growth (anabolism) and muscle cell teardown (catabolism) in your body. Your body normally keeps these two processes in balance. However, as you age, these two processes gradually become less balanced, and your body experiences more significant catabolism. (3)
The question then becomes, what can we do about it? Do we succumb to "old age" and accept this muscular decline? Or do we live our lives with the goal of building resilience and longevity?
If you dream of being fit and active as long as you possibly can, then listen up; there's hope. You CAN have the strength to climb those beautiful mountains in retirement. You CAN confidently lift those giggling grandkids and chase them at the park during your weekend with them. It IS possible. Here's how:
PERFORM REGULAR RESISTANCE TRAINING
First, you need to start lifting weights or pulling on bands NOW. Regular resistance training is your BEST strategy to prevent muscle loss no matter your current age.
Resistance creates tension on your muscle fibers stimulating growth hormones that increase muscle mass and strength. It is the most direct way to increase muscle tissue and prevent its loss. (3)
DO CONSISTENT AEROBIC EXERCISE
Exercise that elevates and sustains your heart rate, such as running or cardio classes, effectively maintains your muscle mass. (4) However, other studies demonstrate that your body's ability to preserve and build muscle mass is most remarkable when you add resistance training to your aerobic routine. (5,6)
GO FOR BRISK WALKS
Walking is an activity that is free and available to most people. It has been shown to prevent and reverse sarcopenia, and the faster you walk, the better it combats the loss of muscle cells. (3)
Again, lifting weights, tugging on some bands, or pushing a leg press machine will better ensure you keep those beautiful muscles.
The food we eat is the fuel our body uses to do everything it needs. Learning which fuel is best to achieve specific goals and optimize our system is a meaningful conversation, especially when managing our muscles. Our muscles are hungry and rely heavily on the type of fuel we give them.
If your goal is to maintain muscle, some good literature supports specific nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Although more research is needed, here is what we know so far:
Protein - It is clear that dietary protein is needed to synthesize muscle. Studies suggest that to prevent sarcopenia, we likely need both dietary protein and exercise. Further research is required to clarify the amount and source of necessary protein. (7)
Vitamin D - Several credible studies suggest that vitamin D plays an essential role in preventing sarcopenia as there is a link between vitamin D deficiency and muscle loss. However, it is unclear how much is needed. (7)
Omega-3 Fatty Acids - Regardless of your age, eating food high in Omega-3 (such as fish) or supplementing will increase your muscle growth. (8) Dosage amounts varied in trials; therefore, further research is necessary to determine the optimal amount to combat sarcopenia.
One other exciting finding regarding food and sarcopenia is the Mediterranean diet's impact. Several studies demonstrated an association with "either physical performance, protection against muscle wasting, or the development of sarcopenia and frailty." (7)
Your body needs BOTH exercise and nutrition to work its best. There is no easy street when it comes to taking care of the body we've been blessed with. "You can't just exercise and not eat properly, and you can't just eat properly and not exercise," says physical therapist Gary Calabrese, DPT.(2)
It's all worth it, though, right??? Imagine an active life in your 80s - the things you can do and experience when you can move well. The movement you do and the choices you make NOW determine your future.
What's it going to look like for you?
Mason C, Xiao L, Imayama I, Duggan CR, Foster-Schubert KE, Kong A, Campbell KL, Wang CY, Villasenor A, Neuhouser ML, Alfano CM, Blackburn GL, McTiernan A. Influence of diet, exercise, and serum vitamin d on sarcopenia in postmenopausal women. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013 Apr;45(4):607-14. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31827aa3fa. PMID: 23190588; PMCID: PMC3594522.
Kraemer WJ, Volek JS, Clark KL, Gordon SE, Puhl SM, Koziris LP, McBride JM, Triplett-McBride NT, Putukian M, Newton RU, Häkkinen K, Bush JA, Sebastianelli WJ. Influence of exercise training on physiological and performance changes with weight loss in men. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999 Sep;31(9):1320-9. doi: 10.1097/00005768-199909000-00014. PMID: 10487375.
Kraemer WJ, Volek JS, Clark KL, Gordon SE, Incledon T, Puhl SM, Triplett-McBride NT, McBride JM, Putukian M, Sebastianelli WJ. Physiological adaptations to a weight-loss dietary regimen and exercise programs in women. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1997 Jul;83(1):270-9. doi: 10.1152/jappl.1922.214.171.1240. PMID: 9216973.
Ganapathy A, Nieves JW. Nutrition and Sarcopenia-What Do We Know?. Nutrients. 2020;12(6):1755. Published 2020 Jun 11. doi:10.3390/nu12061755
Smith GI, Atherton P, Reeds DN, Mohammed BS, Rankin D, Rennie MJ, Mittendorfer B. Dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation increases the rate of muscle protein synthesis in older adults: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Feb;93(2):402-12. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.005611. Epub 2010 Dec 15. PMID: 21159787; PMCID: PMC3021432.