02 Jun How Seniors Can Build Muscle Mass and Increase Their Strength
Muscle loss is a natural phenomenon that occurs in seniors. Research, in fact, shows that the average person will lose 3% to 8% of his or her muscle mass per decade after age 30. In seniors, muscle loss can occur more rapidly. With lower muscle mass, seniors can become weaker, thereby making them more susceptible to physical injury and chronic diseases. The good news is there are ways for seniors to build muscle mass and increase their strength.
Overview of Age-Related Muscle Loss
Also known as sarcopenia, age-related muscle loss is a condition that’s characterized by the progressional loss of muscle mass. It’s not caused by any underlying disease. Rather, sarcopenia is the result of a hormonal imbalance.
Our bodies produce hormones to break down old muscle tissue and reproduce new muscle tissue. It’s a normal cycle that allows our bodies to stay physically fit — or even become stronger. When you exercise, for instance, your body will produce hormones that tell the targeted muscle tissue to break down. Your body will then rebuild the muscle tissue, resulting in increased muscle mass and strength. As we age, however, our bodies lose some of their ability to control this cycle, which leads to the gradual and progressional loss of muscle mass.
Increase Protein Intake
Seniors can protect themselves from age-related muscle loss by increasing their protein intake. Dubbed the “building blocks” of muscle, protein plays an important role in the production of muscle tissue. When muscle tissue in our bodies breaks down, protein is used to rebuild it.
Many seniors don’t consume a sufficient amount of protein, however. As a result, they are more vulnerable to age-related muscle loss than their counterparts. While seniors should always consult with their physician before adjusting their diet, eating more protein may have a positive impact on their muscle mass and strength.
Some of the top protein-rich foods include the following:
Get More Vitamin D
In addition to protein, vitamin D can protect seniors from age-related muscle loss. It’s an essential nutrient that allows our bodies to absorb calcium and regulate their metabolic processes, including the production of muscle tissue. One study found that seniors suffering from age-related muscle loss experienced a significant increase in their total muscle mass after increasing their intake of vitamin D.
With seniors spending most of their time indoors, though, they often suffer from a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is unique because, unlike other vitamins, it can be produced naturally by our bodies through sun exposure. When a senior is exposed to sunlight — even if it’s just 10 or 15 minutes of outdoor exposure — his or her body will produce vitamin D.
Perhaps the most effective way to protect against age-related muscle loss is to exercise regularly. Exercise stimulates the body’s production of muscle tissue while also regulating its metabolic processes. According to a series of studies cited by Harvard University, seniors who exercise regularly are more resistant to age-related muscle loss than their counterparts.
Weight-bearing exercises are especially beneficial because they place greater stress on muscle tissue. How is this beneficial exactly? With more stress on muscle tissue, a senior’s body will repair the tissue, resulting in increased muscle mass. Even if it’s just lifting a pair of lightweight dumbbells, weight-bearing exercises can protect seniors from age-related muscle loss while also increasing their strength.
Of course, exercising isn’t always easy for seniors. Many seniors suffer from other medical conditions, such as arthritis, that restricts their mobility and, therefore, their ability to exercise. Even if a senior doesn’t suffer from a physically debilitating medical condition, he or she may have low energy levels. As a result, there’s no one-size-fits-all exercise regimen that works for all seniors. Seniors should consult with their physicians to determine which workouts are safe and effective for them to perform.
Get Restful and High-Quality Sleep
It may sound counterproductive, but getting restful and high-quality sleep can protect seniors from age-related muscle loss. During sleep, our bodies will produce hormones that regulate the production of muscle tissue. The problem is that many seniors don’t get enough sleep for this bodily process to happen.
Statistics show roughly half of all seniors have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. For these seniors, age-related muscle loss can be more pronounced. Unfortunately, getting restful and high-quality sleep is easier said than done for many seniors. Nonetheless, seniors should strive to improve the quality of their sleep so that they aren’t susceptible to age-related muscle loss.
It’s not uncommon for seniors to lose some of their muscle mass, but there are ways to turn it around. Seniors can increase their protein intake, get more vitamin D, exercise regularly and improve the quality of their sleep, all of which can have a positive impact on their muscle mass.