Some aspects of aging are inevitable, like age-related muscle loss, also known as sarcopenia. Starting at age 30, those individuals who aren’t regularly active can expect to lose 3-5% of their muscle mass with each decade, and the process generally speeds up between age 65-75.
Although muscle loss is a normal part of aging, there are steps that you, your parents or senior loved ones can take to avoid it or slow the process down. Learn how using these five tips.
Several experts have shared advice on what seniors can do to avoid age-related muscle loss.
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Here are the five main tips they provide:
Diet is a big factor in avoiding age-related muscle loss. Cayla Jablonski from Nutrition Preferred points out that “most seniors fall short in meeting their protein needs in a day.” Protein is important in building and maintaining muscle mass, so not getting enough of it can be a real detriment. “I am constantly recommending that seniors get 2-3 servings of high-quality protein such as animal meat or eggs a day, as well as a good source of calcium from either milk or yogurt,” she adds.
Elliott Upton from Ultimate Performance goes even further in his recommendation. “Around 30-35% of your calorie intake should be made up of dietary protein,” he insists. “Protein is responsible for the repair and regrowth of muscle tissue — so getting a good source of protein in at every meal is important to preserve the muscle we have.”
Seniors should look at their current eating habits to determine if they’re getting a good amount of protein. If not, figure out protein sources you like and make a concerted effort to increase your intake.
One of the most common recommendations fitness experts provide is to do some type of weight lifting or other weight-resistance training. Upton recommends seniors follow a weight-lifting program three to four times a week.
“Recommended exercises include key compound lifts that you can get progressively stronger at,” he adds. “If you struggle with back or hip pain, exercises that target the posterior chain such as deadlift variations, hip thrusts, and rows can help improve strength and prevent pain.”
If you’re new to weight lifting, you must proceed with caution to avoid hurting yourself. Talk to your doctor before embarking on a new workout regimen, and consider working with a fitness professional to help you develop a program that helps you gain strength without putting you at risk for injury.
One of the most pleasant and simple ways seniors can work their muscles regularly is to start going on regular walks.
“When you move, even starting with walking more each day, you apply positive stress to the systems in your body, including your bones, cardiovascular system, and muscles,” says Rachel Sparks of the ICT Muscle and Joint Clinic.
In addition to weight-resistance training, adding daily walks into your routine will help you keep your muscles active so you slow down the atrophy that comes with a more sedentary lifestyle. A walk around the neighborhood is also a convenient and free addition to your daily schedule.
While some of these other recommendations may feel like work, Tresa Edmunds from HavenTree has a suggestion you might find more fun.
“Learning a new skill harnesses the power of neuroplasticity to fight off age-related memory loss, while the motor skills used in the process will keep muscles active and not atrophied with disuse,” she says. As a result, she believes seniors can keep their muscles working by “making something, whether it’s an elaborate knitting project, coloring in a coloring book or playing playdough with grandchildren.”
While this will mostly work for strengthening your hand muscles, it’s a good addition to the other suggestions on this list to keep some of your most important muscles active.
Starting a weight-lifting regimen and adding daily walks to your routine requires making a change to your typical schedule for each day. But some experts also recommend ways you can bring functional movements into your life.
According to Tim Fraticelli of PTProgress, “A simple strategy of sitting up and down from a chair five times at each mealtime can improve endurance and strength.” Since getting up and down from a chair is something you’ll need to do every day for the rest of your life, turning it into a mini-workout gives you a chance to work the muscles you need to continue doing this basic but important activity as you age.
Similarly, Lisa Alemi of Move Mama Move says, “squatting, with proper form, to pick up items from the floor or low shelving can help maintain hip strength. Carrying grocery bags, lightly packed bags, [and other] small-to-medium-sized items can be very helpful in maintaining muscle strength.”
There are some aspects of aging and health we have limited control over, but sarcopenia isn’t one of them. You can take steps to keep your muscles active and working to reduce the amount of muscle loss you experience.
Keeping muscles strong makes a big difference in the ability to complete common tasks of daily life, such as getting up and down from seats, moving throughout the home, and picking up objects.
The sooner these habits are adapted into your lifestyle, the more you’ll ward off the inconveniences of age-related muscle loss and make day-to-day activities easier as you age.
Are there any other steps you take to reduce age-related muscle loss that was not featured above? We’d like to hear any suggestions or tips that you’re willing to share in the comments below.