I met an amazing older couple in the lounge at the airport in Hawaii once. The two were enjoying a beer in between flights and clearly having a fantastic time. They were lively, hilarious, and full of fun stories.
The couple was there with extended family to celebrate the man’s 90th birthday. I was blown away to learn this last part, as I would have guessed 80, at the very most. He was engaged and active and clearly capable of getting around wherever he chose. I asked him what his secret was to successful aging, and he pointed to his wife with a smile.
And she was 80! Not a single sign, in my brief experience with her, of being more than 65 or so. So I asked her what her secret was and her response has stuck with me.
Just. Keep. Moving.
I have it posted on the top of my To Do List for every day as a reminder. Slowing down is natural and perfectly okay, but stopping is not.
Aging is associated with physiological changes that affect body composition, among other things. These changes include a decrease in muscle, a reduction in bone mineral density, and an increase in body fat. Some of it is natural, but much of it is the result of our choices in life.
A lot of time and attention is spent focusing on fat, for a few rather important reasons. Cosmetically, it’s the most obvious component of body composition, one our society tends to fixate on it. Fat is also, obviously, a huge factor in weight management and chronic disease.
But the real focus, in my mostly biased opinion, should be on building and maintaining lean mass. Because it matters more. If you focus effectively on building lean mass, you will maintain your ability to function well into older age, protect your bones from becoming brittle, and gain a leg up on weight management and healthy aging. It’s a more positive approach to living in general.
A decrease in lean mass, the muscle, bone, organs, and other non-fat tissues in your body, leads to reduced strength, mobility, and functional capacity, making us more susceptible to falls and frailty. Additionally, the accumulation of visceral fat contributes to metabolic disturbances, insulin resistance, and chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes.
Did you know that diet-induced weight loss is associated with a loss in muscle and bone mass as well? Sadly it’s true, but it’s also preventable. Eating healthy and moving more is the best way to reduce fat mass while maintaining or building lean mass. Be wary of diets or drugs that promote weight loss without attention to body composition.
Lean mass plays a pivotal role in maintaining strength and physical function, particularly in older adults. Strong muscles are essential for performing daily activities, such as walking, climbing stairs, carrying groceries, or lifting objects.
By preserving or building lean mass, you can improve your functional strength and reduce the risk of falls, fractures, and other mobility-related issues that become more common with age. Preserving lean mass helps maintain independence and reduces the risk of disability.
Lean mass is metabolically active, contributing to a higher resting metabolic rate and energy expenditure. Compared to fat, muscle tissue has a higher metabolic rate, which means it burns more calories at rest.
Increased muscle mass enhances insulin sensitivity, glucose metabolism, and lipid profiles, reducing the risk of metabolic disorders. Moreover, lean mass helps counteract age-related declines in metabolism and maintain a healthy body weight.
Lean mass, particularly in the form of skeletal muscle, also plays a vital role in supporting bone health. Muscles exert mechanical stress on bones, stimulating bone growth and strength. Maintaining or improving this kind of lean mass helps reduce the risk of osteoporosis and fractures, which are prevalent in aging populations.
Finally, higher lean mass is associated with a lower risk of various chronic conditions, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic syndrome. Additionally, maintaining lean mass can support a healthy immune system and improve overall resilience to illness and injury.
Engaging in regular resistance training is the cornerstone for preserving and enhancing lean mass. Resistance exercises, such as weightlifting and resistance band workouts, stimulate muscle protein synthesis, leading to muscle growth and maintenance.
Both aerobic exercises and resistance training should be combined to optimize overall health benefits, but don’t neglect the critical muscle-building and bone strengthening benefits of resistance training.
Building muscle can be an enjoyable and rewarding process. It all depends on your attitude.
Engaging in weightlifting or strength training exercises is one of the most effective ways to build muscle. It’s a versatile activity that lets you target specific muscle groups and progressively increase the weights as you get stronger.
Many people find weightlifting to be both challenging and satisfying as they see their strength and muscle mass increase over time. You are never too old to discover the joy of weightlifting, or how much fun it is to be strong.
Participating in sports that require strength and power can be another enjoyable way to build muscle. Sports like tennis, pickleball or swimming involve dynamic movements and can help develop muscle mass while providing an element of enjoyment as well.
Group fitness classes can also be a fun way to build muscle. These classes often incorporate a combination of strength training exercises and cardiovascular activities, providing a challenging and motivating environment.
Activities like walking, hiking, kayaking, or paddle boarding can engage multiple muscle groups and promote muscle development while enjoying the outdoors. These activities offer a change of scenery and can make the process of building muscle more exciting.
Dance styles like ballet, hip-hop, or salsa involve intense movements that challenge your muscles. These activities can improve strength, coordination, and flexibility while providing an enjoyable and engaging experience.
While these activities are not primarily focused on muscle building, they can help improve muscle tone, flexibility, and overall body strength. Yoga and Pilates classes often incorporate bodyweight exercises and resistance training movements that engage various muscle groups.
Adequate protein consumption is crucial for maintaining lean mass, as dietary protein provides essential amino acids necessary for muscle repair and growth. Older adults may have increased protein needs compared to younger people due to age-related anabolic resistance. Including protein-rich foods like lean meats, fish, eggs, dairy products and plant-based protein sources is essential.
Besides protein, a balanced diet is necessary to support overall health and muscle maintenance. Consuming a variety of nutrient-dense foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, ensures an adequate intake of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Proper nutrition promotes optimal muscle function and supports lean mass preservation.
Declining hormone levels, such as testosterone and growth hormone, are associated with age-related muscle loss. In certain cases, hormone replacement therapy under medical supervision may be considered to support lean mass preservation. However, the risks and benefits of such interventions should be carefully evaluated on an individual basis.
In addition to exercise and nutrition, other lifestyle factors contribute to maintaining lean mass. Sufficient sleep, stress management, and avoiding sedentary behavior are all important. Sleep is essential for muscle recovery and growth, while chronic stress and sedentary lifestyles have negative impacts on muscle health and body composition.
Making simple lifestyle switches can help you incorporate more movement into your daily routine.
Remember, small changes can add up over time. Find opportunities to move throughout your day, and gradually incorporate more physical activity into your routine. It’s important to listen to your body, start with manageable goals, and gradually increase your activity level as you feel comfortable.
Lean mass is a critical component of body composition, particularly as we age. Preserving and enhancing lean mass through exercise, proper nutrition, and healthy lifestyle choices have numerous benefits for older adults.
Maintaining strength, physical function, metabolic health, and bone density are all positively influenced by the presence of lean mass. By understanding the importance of lean mass and implementing strategies to support it, we can age gracefully, maintaining our vitality and independence for a higher quality of life.
Do you do resistance training? What do you do to move more? What’s your favorite way to get some exercise? What’s your biggest obstacle when it comes to workout out?
Tags Fitness Over 60