By Lisa Hampton
No matter what your current age is, longevity is the goal because if you’re lucky enough to live a long life, you will inevitably age. After age 35, the hormones that kept our bodies actively growing start to decline steadily until around age 60 when they decline even more rapidly. If we let nature take its course, by age 40 we might start gaining unwanted weight and feel aches and pains we didn’t feel before in our younger years, by age 60 we could be losing our ability to walk up a flight of stairs, get up from the floor or sustain an injury and never walk again. This article will explain age-related muscle loss, how muscle mass affects our overall health, and how we can build muscle to live a longer, healthier, happier life.
Muscle is the organ of longevity. The most obvious function of muscle is that it supports our bones, joints, and enables our bodies to move easily. The less obvious functions of muscle are metabolism regulation and immunity. Muscle plays a role in insulin sensitivity, which helps regulate your metabolism. Insulin is a hormone that helps to regulate blood sugar levels by allowing cells to take in glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream. The more muscle mass you have, the more efficient your metabolism is at utilizing glucose for fuel and controlling your glucose levels. These functions help you keep a healthy body weight and stave off health issues like diabetes type 2 and hypoglycemia.
Muscle also plays a role in the body’s ability to fight off infections and other health threats. When your muscles contract during intense exercise, they release molecules called myokines which over time help reduce the inflammation linked to many chronic diseases. The more we exercise and the more intensely we exercise, the more we produce these molecules.
Why Are We Losing Muscle?
We naturally start to lose about 9-10% of our muscle mass each decade after age 40 due to sarcopenia, which is the medical term for age-related muscle loss. Sarcopenia is one of the biggest causes of functional decline and loss of independence in older adults, especially after age 60. To make matters worse, the prevalence of sedentary lifestyles and poor nutrition have made our muscles weaker than generations before us.
Loss of muscle mass has been shown to be predictive of a shorter lifespan and is linked to illnesses we often see in older adults; immobility, joint problems, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes type 2, sleep apnea, and some cancers.
How Do We Save Our Muscles?
In short, you need to challenge your muscles if you want to keep them. Muscles will respond to load or force regardless of your age. Yes, a 20-year-old can build bigger and stronger muscles than an 80-year-old. But an 80-year-old will grow stronger muscles if they do resistance exercise (otherwise known as lifting weights or strength training).
As we age, muscle also has a more difficult time processing protein, so it requires more protein and amino acids to make muscle. Strength training can stimulate protein synthesis, the body’s process of producing new proteins from amino acids. By increasing our protein intake and challenging our bodies to adapt to heavier loads, we can trigger the repair and rebuilding process, which helps to preserve and build more muscle mass and armors our immune system to respond quickly to infection and disease.
Essentially, strength training combined with adequate protein intake can help to slow the aging process by preserving and building muscle mass and improving strength, functional capacity, and metabolic processes.
If you’re in your 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and beyond it’s never too late to start. If you’re unsure of where to start, hire an experienced trainer to coach you and help prevent injury.
If you’re in your teens, 20’s and 30’s start weight training now to build a solid muscular foundation that will support you well into your later years.
Cardio and strength training go hand in hand. You should aim for at least 3-4 days of cardio training to keep your heart strong and burn fat. Add 2-3 days of weight training to keep your muscles, metabolism, and immune system strong.
Eat plenty of protein. The RDA for protein intake .8-1.1 grams per pound of your bodyweight (or recommended bodyweight). You can learn more about proteins here.
I’m Lisa Hampton, a certified nutritionist and personal trainer at Life Adapted Fitness in Brookside, Kansas City. Our goal is to make fitness sustainable so you can life a longer, healthier, and happier life. Thank you for reading my article, stay tuned for more articles on nutrition and fitness. If you’re looking for personalized help with your personal fitness or nutrition, you’ll find me in the gym and I’m always happy to help. For quick fitness and nutrition tips please follow me on Instagram @lisahamptonfitness.
For more information about strength training for longevity check out these resources: