Unfortunately, a gradual loss of muscle mass is common with age. The technical term is “sarcopenia,” and the effects may be familiar if you’re over 50. If you’ve noticed feeling weaker and less coordinated, you may have been slowly losing muscle without realizing it. The good news is that you can not only stop the decline but actually reverse it.
There are several major downsides to losing muscle mass beyond not being able to lift as much weight as you used to. In addition to weakness, you may also feel a loss of stamina. This one-two punch leads you to do be even more sedentary, which in turn makes you lose muscle faster.
Researchers aren’t entirely sure what causes the condition. While a sedentary lifestyle is definitely a factor, there may be additional underlying issues. The nerve cells that allow your brain and muscles to communicate may be impacted. Hormonal imbalances—specifically a reduction in testosterone, insulin, and growth hormone—might also play a role.
Your body might also be struggling to use protein for energy. This could be made worse if you’re not eating as many calories as you used to.
While some loss of muscle mass as you age may be unavoidable, you can take steps right now to make a positive difference.
To rebuild muscle, you must do some kind of strength training. You can actually achieve a lot of it at home without any kind of equipment, using your own body weight as resistance. Wall push-ups, squats, and calf raises are a great trio of exercises that target many of the major muscle groups. Make sure you go slowly and stretch before and after!
You’ll need to do a little cardiovascular exercise too. Keep it low-impact—meaning exercise that doesn’t put too much stress on your joints. There’s no sense in trading one problem for another by wearing out the cartilage in your knees, ankles, or hips. Biking, swimming, or walking are all low-impact cardio activities.
Your body uses dietary protein as the building blocks for muscle. Unfortunately, more protein doesn’t necessarily equal more muscle. Shoot for 15-25% of your daily calories to come from good sources of protein. Free-range chicken and grass-fed beef are good choices, as is wild-caught fish like salmon. Eggs are ideal, and you can also get protein from black beans and other legumes if you’d prefer not to eat meat.
Water is essential for your body to perform pretty much any function, including building muscle and recovering after a workout. Make sure that you’re getting enough water—and no, soda and coffee do not count! Try carrying a reusable, insulated bottle with you to ensure that you’re never without a source of fresh water.
Carbs are confusing right now. While the gluten-free craze had muddied the waters, the fact is that you need a certain amount of carbohydrates to live. Otherwise your body can start burning muscle for energy. Eat a balanced diet that includes healthy carbs such as brown rice or sweet potatoes.