Can You Prevent a Midlife Muscle Crisis?
By Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN
Is it a given that as you age, you will gain fat and lose muscle? Not necessarily. “It’s true that after age 40, you naturally lose muscle mass--up to eight percent per decade” says Vonda Wright, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon and author of Fitness After 40. “The good news is that although muscles can deteriorate with time, studies show muscle atrophy is reversible at any age.” So how can you avoid a muscle midlife crisis? The answer is simple: use it or lose it.
How It Works
Exercising supports the normal function of our muscles which is to help us move and maintain posture. By exercising, you can maintain or even gain the muscle mass you may lose with age. And the benefits don’t stop there. Wright says “Exercise also strengthens bones, and helps the body burn more calories.” Engaging in regular physical activity that includes aerobic, muscle- and bone-strengthening exercise may also help lower the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and some cancers (including colon and breast).
How much exercise is enough?
Current Physical Activity Guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services (DHHS) recommend that American adults aim for 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic activity (such as brisk walking where you’re sweating a bit but can still carry on a conversation) or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (such as jogging or running). Muscle strengthening exercise that works all the major muscle groups is also recommended at least twice a week. Wright recommends seeing where you are, and setting small reasonable goals (for example, adding 5 minutes to a walk) until you meet your quota. She also says you need more exercise if you are chained to a desk for 40+ hours a week.
Wright introduces an acronym for exercising smarter as you age called F.A.C.E. Your Future, which embraces the following guidelines:
- Flexibility, every day. Examples: Yoga, Pilates and standard stretches.
- Aerobic Exercise, 3 to 5 times per week. Examples: Brisk walking, jogging and dancing.
- Carrying a load (“functional resistance training”), 2 to 3 times per week. Examples: Hand weights, squats, and push-ups.
- Equilibrium and balance training, daily. Examples: Balancing on one foot, Tai Chi and yoga.
Wright says, “Start small by taking a brisk walk every day, or climbing stairs instead of using the elevator. Once these basics become habits, you can build from there.” For regular exercisers, Wright’s advice is to mix it up. “Your body gets used to what you’re doing, so it’s important to tweak your routine and challenge your muscles in different ways.”
Feed Your Muscles
As you move more, your body will need better fuel. Current Federal Dietary Guidelines that suggest a diet loaded with protein-rich foods (including fish, skinless chicken, beef, and legumes), high fiber whole grains (such as whole wheat pasta, cereal, crackers, and brown rice), and colorful fiber-rich vegetables and fruits provides fuel to support your brain and muscles.
Plan for success
Wright sums it up well by suggesting you plan for physical success as you would professional success. By taking the time and energy to plan exercise and watch what you eat, you can maintain your muscle mass and become healthier as you age.
What do you do to stay fit and strong?
Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, is a nationally recognized registered dietitian and award-winning author of "Nutrition At Your Fingertips," "Feed Your Family Right!," and "So What Can I Eat?!." She is also a past national media spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. For more information, go to www.elisazied.com, and www.nutritionatyourfingertips.com. Follow Elisa on Twitter/elisazied and on Facebook.