Everyone over 40 knows (without having to be reminded by me) that your physical fitness starts to decline fairly precipitously as we get into our 40s and beyond. And with every decade beyond that, the decline becomes more and more rapid, and the results of the decline become more consequential.
Loss of muscle mass has 4 major consequences……
The first is most obvious. As we lose muscle mass we start to lose functional strength. Like it or not, strength is critical for the execution of most of our daily activities. Strength is vitally important if you are a physically active person who enjoys activities that require some degree of physical labor – landscaping your yard for instance. Recreational activites – hiking, skiing, playing on the floor with the grandkids are all dependent on physical strength. Lose it and these activities become a lot less fun – or even impossible to perform.
As we lose our strength then are cardiovascular capacity also starts to decline. Even with a perfectly healthy set of lungs, simple tasks become harder if you are weak. Navigating the stairs for instance might leave you gasping for breath if you’ve lost the muscle mass in your legs. It’s not that your cardiovascular system is unhealthy – it’s that your lack of strength is making each step a significant physical event requiring a lot of effort. Get your legs stronger and each step becomes easier and all of a sudden you can breath at the top of that flight of stairs.
Third, a loss of muscle mass slows your metabolism. Muscle is a thermogenic (or calorie consuming) tissue. This means that muscle mass feeds on calories to sustain itself. So if you build up some muscle, that new muscle will feed on excess calories – these are calories that would have otherwise been converted to body fat. As we age and lose muscle, that smaller amount of muscle mass consumes less and less calories. So if you continue to eat the same number of calories, more of those excess calories will be stored as body fat.
Fourth, loss of muscle, and therefore strength, creates the risk for injury. Weak knees? Weak back? Weak shoulders? Weak joints break and tear easier. That’s a no brainer. When the muscles around the joints are strong, the joints are better supported and injury is less likely.
So what do we do about it? What are the most critical steps to take to preserve our strength and fitness as we age?
- First and foremost – we must preserve our muscle mass. This means strength training. 2 full body strength training sessions per week is the best approach to take. This is enough work to build muscle and strength, but not so much work that you can’t recover from each workout. As we age, recovery becomes the most crucial factor to success.
- Eat more protein. Almost all new clients I start with are woefully undereating on their protein consumption. As Americans, we eat too many processed foods and not enough fresh animal based protein. Lean meats, eggs, and some dairy are all excellent sources. Many need to supplement with a protein supplement 1-2 times per day to meet their needs. If you are strength training you have to consume protein. Your body needs this to recover from the workouts and repair muscle tissue.
- Moderate amounts of aerobics only. Aerobic activity is good for the heart, but in excess, can strip away muscle mass quickly. If you are an aging adult, you don’t need excessive amounts of aerobic activity. 2-3 times per week for 20-30 minutes at a time is plenty for general health. Any more than that and you run the risk of actually speeding up the process of sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass).
It really isn’t much more complicated than that. The consequences of ignoring these processes are severe, but the solutions are fairly simple. It just takes action on your part!
Call or email Baker Personal Training today for a free consultation regarding our personal training services!