Muscle mass starts decreasing past age 50 and if you don’t take measures to replace it, many facets of your health and mobility could suffer. Experts say that because of decreasing muscle loss, at age 65 you could lose 25% of your overall strength. This often results in weakness of the legs and arms as well as that one little all-important muscle – your heart.
More Muscle Helps Your Health and Your Heart
Body builders have had the right idea long before the medical establishment got on board with it – more muscle mass not only helps your overall strength but it helps your general health. If you look at a 65-year-old man whose practiced body building techniques for several years and compare him to a 65-year-old man who hasn’t, the body builder’s body is remarkably different. He not only looks, and is, stronger, but his body – his skin, his internal organs, his brain, his vascular system are healthier and younger and their outward appearance reflects it. Here’s why.
Building muscle in your body helps replace fat. Excess body fat is a storage center for bad, inflammation-causing substances called cytokines. When you lose muscle mass as you get older your body replaces it with fat. The more fat you have, the more cytokines you have, the more unhealthy you’re likely to become as you are at higher risk for diseases typical of older age like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer.
Medical researchers have known for a few years now that inflammation is especially dangerous for your heart. With even 20 lbs of excess fat – not just weight itself – your endothelial (inner lining of your veins, arteries) can weaken and break down badly which puts you at higher risk for stroke and heart attack. Now, inflammation can also be caused by other factors – lifestyle stress, toxins (smoking, alcohol, environmental) – but excess body fat is a true killer.
How To Increase Muscle Mass
Now, I’m not advocating that everyone become body builders. You don’t have to become that dedicated to gain the benefits of body building. The things you need to focus on are:
1. Resistance training: Achieved through either lifting free weights, using kettlebells, resistance bands, TRX, or using your own body as the resistance element. Machine weights take much longer to build muscle because they remove part of the resistance involved. Yet, if you’re just starting out with weight exercise, you can start on a machine to get your muscles used to it and then progress to free weights and/or other, more useful forms. Resistance training should be done 3-4 times a week, 20-30 minutes each session. Working with a trainer to start may help.
2. Optimal nutrition: This involves upping your protein intake and balancing slow and fast carbs (1 serving fruit/vegetable, 1 serving whole grain rice, oatmeal, sweet potato, beans, etc) at each meal to prevent insulin spikes and help your body release stored fat. Protein is the very building block of life itself. If you followed the government RDA Food and Nutrition guidelines for recommended daily intake of protein, you’d become woefully deficient. Your muscles, as well as your general health, would suffer – especially as you get older. The RDA states 0.36 grams protein per lb of body weight is “sufficient”. That means if you weigh 160 lbs, you would eat 57.6 grams of protein per day. Keep in mind that RDA levels of any nutrient – protein, vitamins or minerals – is the absolute lowest level to sustain health. “Sustaining” health is not what we want – we want to optimize and strengthen your health. In fact, new research out of the U.S. Institute of Medicine published in the new, September 2013 FASEB Journal (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology), reported that doubling the RDA amount of protein is actually more beneficial to fighting muscle mass and optimizing health – especially when dieting. That means that your intake should be at least 0.72 grams of protein per lb of body weight. So, a 160 lb person would eat 115.20 g protein every day – quite a difference.
Building muscle mass goes hand and hand with your bone health as well. Maintaining bone health is always an issue for people over 50. I’d like to also refer you to my colleague, Dr. Bromson’s, excellent article on building muscle mass and how it affects your bones, Middle Aged Men: Muscle Loss Equals Bone Loss
3. Aerobic exercise caution: Aerobic exercise is important to your heart as well but you don’t need very much to strengthen it. In fact, too much, long-haul aerobic exercise (treadmill, elliptical, stair climber, running 40-60 minutes in one stretch) can actually decrease muscle mass! And, it doesn’t do all that much for your heart. Rather, do very short bursts (1-2 minutes) of intense “interval” exercise in several sets for no more than 10-15 minutes at a time, 3 times a week – that’s about 30-45 minutes total PER WEEK. Intense “stressors” in life are what your heart needs to be strengthened against and that’s what interval training does for your heart. It also decreases your hemoglobin A1c level so your insulin levels decline and you lose fat faster.
As you increase your muscle mass your BMI (body mass index numbers), will also rise. Don’t worry about the number – your percentage of body fat is what’s important. Focus on building your muscles through nutrition and exercise and stay far away from steroids to keep your heart healthy and the rest of you going strong long into your older years!
Ron Blankstein, M.D.
Heart strain from being overweight or overfat? http://fitness.stackexchange.com/questions/1092/is-the-strain-on-your-heart-the-same-if-you-are-overweight-due-to-muscle-or-fat
Doubling the Daily Allowances of Protein Intake Protects Against Muscle Loss, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130829110430.htm