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Aging isn’t just about growing older. The World Health Organization officially recognized that the process of aging is a major risk factor for diseases, and some experts are calling for aging to be viewed as a disease process in itself.
A study in Aging & Disease suggests aging results in “chronic low grade inflammation that is associated with increased risk for disease, poor physical functioning and mortality.”
Over time, the accrual of this inflammation in the growing population of older adults may lead to an increase in chronic health conditions and a high prevalence of functional limitations and disability associated with declines in lean mass and strength.
Strength-related muscle fibers, located in larger muscle groups such as the legs, hips and trunk, enable us to perform major movements each day and help to reduce inflammation and bolster the immune system. As we get older, lean muscle mass significantly decreases.
Age-related muscle loss, or sarcopenia, can decrease physical function and increase the risk for falls and fractures. It’s a cyclical effect. An individual moves less and thereby loses muscle and loses function, combined with inadequate nutritional and protein intake — creating a downward spiral of accumulating injuries and problems along the way.
After age 50, it is imperative to protect against sarcopenia. The key to fighting muscle loss is to keep your muscles active. As we get older, there is a clear connection between exercise, namely strength training, to improve lean mass and movement.
Research suggests that higher protein intake combined with strength-based physical activity in older adults, correlates with greater lean mass and a reduced risk of falls and inflammation-based diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and coronary artery disease.
The combination of strength training, plus a high-protein and low-fat diet, can help offset age-related muscle loss so you can avoid injuries and loss of physical function. It can make the difference between enjoying the later years of life versus making many trips to the hospital.
First, your diet should include an adequate amount of protein (0.50 grams per pound of body weight) to begin the process of building new lean mass. When coupled with a workout regimen, a balanced diet with protein sources of chicken, fish, beans, lentils, eggs, yogurt and certain cheeses can provide elements to support healthy bones and strong muscles.
Also, as you age, it’s essential to move as much as possible each day — with strength training at the center of your exercise routine. Strength training does not have to be as difficult or as intimidating as it sounds. If the goal is to stave off age-related sarcopenia, focus your workout routine on developing hypertrophy (muscle size) and strengthening the bigger muscles of the body to improve functionality and lean mass.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, multicomponent exercise programs are superior to single-set programs to improve physical function and prevent fall-related injuries in older adults. “Multicomponent” means more than one type of physical activity. Aim for moderate intensity strength-training (8-12 repetitions on major muscle groups of the body) combined with moderate-intensity aerobic exercise 3-5 times per week and balance training.
It’s never too late to turn back the clock of time and prioritize your health no matter your age. Developing a structured plan and adhering to it with specific prescriptions to fight sarcopenia will help improve your quality of life as well as your physical and mental well-being.
Eat well, make exercise a part of your day and prioritize strength training in your daily regimen — your body will thank you for years and decades to come.
“The strength of your mind determines the quality of your life.” – Edmond Mbiaka
Need help with ways to build lean muscle mass? A fitness specialist can help you develop a strength training program that works for you.
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