Important Update: Calorie Count will be shutting down on March 15th. Please click here to read the announcement. Data export is available.
subscribe Signup for our Newsletter expand Expand Browser
Calorie Count Blog

Can You Prevent a Midlife Muscle Crisis?

By +Elisa Zied on Dec 09, 2010 03:00 AM in Dieting & You

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.

Exercise Smart

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.  

Your thoughts....

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, and Follow Elisa on Twitter/elisazied and on Facebook.


I just want to totally reaffirm the wisdom in the above article - and potentially in Eliza's book - facts that I discovered by pure accident this year.  In June our family went to a surf beach and for fun we all took surfing classes.  I loved the sport but was frustrated with the muscle weakness that prevented me from being a better surfer.  On return I did not want to lose my muscle gain so chose a small routine of squats, push ups, plank and dance steps to do twice weekly.  I noticed an immediate change in my physical size, smaller waist, less bloating, gradually weight came off my hips.  I was so amazed at what was happening that I increased my routines and added new exercises.  Soon, my family and friends commented on how much weight I had lost and how good I looked.  Actually, I have not lost any weight, the space my old weight takes up is just smaller.  Best still is the fitness and health i feel in my body.  I am definitely committed to strength training now.  I turn 49 next April and realise that, as I age, I lose strength and maintaining that strength is both a health and weight goal. I wish someone would have told me about this years ago - especially after having my children. 

I must say that this is great advice.  I'm 42 and have just joined a gym again after a long (disasterous) absence.  At first I put all my emphasis into the cardio, thinking that would be the quickest way to lose weight but it wasn't until I started working out on the weights that I remembered the wonderful feeling of core strength.

I may not be losing weight as fast as I would like (muscle weighs more than fat) but I am fitting into my smaller sized clothes.  The other benefit is knowing that the more muscles you develop, the more effective cardio is when you do it.

good luck to everyone on their journey!

Lift like a man, look like a goddess.  Best weight-lifting book out there.  Women, stop lifting baby weights and get strong.  Check the book out; it's fabulous.

I should buy this for my mom, she's in her forties and thinks she can never lose weight because of her age. But, to be honest she's a pretty tiny petite lady.

Better yet, look for it in your local library or if they don't have it, ask them to find it at another library.  There is a New Rules for Lifting group here.  Check it out.

I just might have to check this book out.  Thanks for the tip on the weightlifting book too renee0467.

I just ordered the New Rules of Lifting for Women from Amazon AND I checked out the forum.... looking forward to getting active with both.



Very cool, ladies!  Lift, lift, lift.  It's a change it attitude.  We don't want to lose weight, we want to lose FAT.  Big difference.

A pound of muscle weighs the same as a pound of fat.  A pound is a pound.  A pound of muscle burns more calories than a pound of fat. 

Excellent article.  And speaking of muscle vs. fat, this is very true.  If you work out with weights and build muscle, the scale may show that you have gained weight, but the results are astonishing!  You will gain muscle, burn more calories, and drop at least two clothing sizes.

I am 60 and used to train with weights in my 40s.  I looked better at 49 than I did at 20!!  I was always thin, and wore a size 3/5 in my 20s.  After my pregnancy at 30, I could not take the weight off easily.  I joined a gym that promoted aerobics only.  I lost weight, but it was not until I joined another gym, and began weight training that I saw very quick and amazing results.

After weight training for one year, my weight was 125 lbs; and I was wearing size 2/4.  When I was in my 20s I my weight ranged from 92-105 and I wore a size 3/5.

The last 10 years my weight has crept up on me.  In October I regained my focus, and began putting myself first.  I have already lost 25 pounds and would like to lost 25 more.  I work out at a local university 3 days each week.  It is a free program run by PhysED. Doctorate - the program consists of 30 minutes or  more walking; 30 minutes light weight training and resistance; and 30 minutes of Pilates, yoga and floor stretches.  It is a wonderful program.  On the other days, I go to my personal gym to work with heavy weights.  I love it, and have seen great results to my general mood, my balance etc.  My body has always been strong, and maintained much of its strength from the prior weight training when I was in my 40s.

I encourage everyone who can to do some weight training, along with yoga/pilates and walking.  If you have never been a person who enjoys exercise, please consider, baby steps and start small, with walking, and light resistance bands etc.  It will only benefit you.



Comment Removed

That kind of exercise is tough on your joints. 

A lot of people say they gain weight when they put on muscle because muscle weighs more. I heard on BL that you have to put on a heck of a lot of muscle before you see any weight gain. Generally what i gathered from that episode (one contenstant claimed their weight gain was muscle and Jillian about had a fit over that claim) was if you are working out, doing a combo of aerobic and weight training, and eating right you should still see a loss.. it just won't be as much, and yes, you do not gain the definition and strength that weight liftting brings if you only do aerobics.

I have been reluctant to start doing weight training at my gym because it seems like it's always so busy in there and being heavy I don't always feel comfortable in the weights area with the fit specimins in there.  I need to hear some more stories about how weight training has made a difference to others to motivate me to push past my hesitation about waiting for the machines amongst the beautiful people, feeling like a duck out of water. 

Everyone is beautiful, in their own way :)

I belong to a women's only gym but they are having the floors all redone so I've been going to the co-ed one lately and sometimes when I feel intimidated to do the weights around the hulking men and perfect women, I just tell myself that the only thing more pathetic than the vision of me doing weights among them is me not doing weights among them. 

After a get into my routine I don't even notice anyone - and I'm fairly sure they dont' really pay attention to me either (other than to think "good for her")



Thanks for all the wonderful comments on my article! To 4photochick: I started weight training twice a week several years ago; although it contributed to me developing a cyst in my wrist and I've been out of commission (with upper body weight training--I still do lots of power walking and lower body/ab work and will likely have surgery in two weeks), the other benefits I've achieved have been considerable. Though I'll never do another push up or bear all my weight on my wrists again (several trainers disagree with me, but the four hand surgeons and 4 OTs I've worked with/consulted with all agree holding all your body weight with wrists bent is NOT good for you), I am hoping to find a physical therapist/trainer to help me get my upper body muscles back in shape and minimize injury risk. I'm also planning to do a half marathon (walking it) in April. I truly love exercise, both aerobic and weight training, and miss it a lot. But even my injury has not made me want to give it up, but instead change it up to maximize benefits while minimizing injury. Hope this inspires you a little bit! And as for all the so-called "beautiful people" out there..just worry about being the best, strongest you YOU can be...and forget about conforming to or being some so-called ideal! We are all beautiful in our own unique way. :)

 4photochick - check the book out - new rules of lifting for women.  It talks about being uncomfortable in a "male" gym and how to get past that. 

Original Post by: 4photochick

I have been reluctant to start doing weight training at my gym because it seems like it's always so busy in there and being heavy I don't always feel comfortable in the weights area with the fit specimins in there.  I need to hear some more stories about how weight training has made a difference to others to motivate me to push past my hesitation about waiting for the machines amongst the beautiful people, feeling like a duck out of water. 

I too was reluctant when I first started weight lifting.  Fortunately I joined a small gym owned by a husband and wife.  The husband assured me that "his guys" (the male members of the gym) were well behaved because he would not accept anything less than polite behavior; and that they were **** cats.

Still reluctant, I joined, and the wife, worked with  me for the first couple of weeks.  Thereafter, I was able to spread my wings and fly solo.  And the guys were great.  They were supportive and very kind.

That said, when the gym closed because the couple retired, I tried Gold's gym and a couple of other large commercial gyms.  I was not comfortable in those gyms.  The guys were "juice heads" (on steroids - with bad temperments).

I found another small gym in my neighborhood.  It's called Planet Fitness and I like it very much.  As with anything, you must first be ready mentally; then you must find the right atmosphere, that makes you comfortable; and it also helps if you can to find a buddy to accompany you.

You may find that once your shore up your confidence to begin, you will LOVE it.  Also, in the meantime, why not try working with resistance bands.  You can do that at home and it gives you similar benefit.

I hope you find your inner comfort level to try weight training.  You have nothing to lose.  In fact, you may want to try going to a local gym as a guest, rather than take out a membership;  just until you decide whether or not you like it.

Best wishes to you.


I turned 60 this year and I've been steadily going to the gym for maybe 10 years. I feel stronger than I did in my 30's. (In my 20's I was strong from building a house & living a lifestyle of woodswoman.) I take a yoga class, muscle works class and work out with free weights and the weight machines. I'm building up again for elliptical and treadmill - occasional strains & knee problems slowed me down. I've had physical therapy for a few things over the years and incorporate those exercises into my routine. Women do tend to get the chores done, take care of the kids, go to work and forget the time to exercise, and that's not good! So now, I'll quit doing chores & playing on the computer and do a work out here in my living room!

Comment Removed

Comment Removed

Comment Removed

Comment Removed

With all due respect to CC and its monitors, I am happy you have removed the comments/advertising inappropriately by certain members.  But if you must continuously remove anyone's comments, I think it is time, to block their membership. There are always those that spoil it for the rest.

I would have to think that some spammer has found a way to kidnap the identies of the innocent and use them for ill.

Comment Removed

Comment Removed

Comment Removed

Comment Removed


Comment Removed

Comment Removed

Comment Removed

Comment Removed

Comment Removed

Comment Removed

With all due respect to CC and its monitors, I am happy you have removed the comments/advertising inappropriately by certain members.

All of you have inspried me to get the weight machine dusted off and get back into weight lifting.  I use to be an avid lifter, but after getting married I kind of let myself go....a lot!!!!  I never bought the loose muscle thing until this summer when my husband was away at school and I had to hold down the fort.  I had to mow the lawn (which I haven't done in 16 yrs) and found that I could hardly push it.  But, it had to be done and I had to do it.  Well, by the end of summer, what took me 2 hours to do in the beginning, only took me 45 mins.  I was even lifting patio bricks to surprize my husband with a new fire pit.  Well, 20 lbs later the pit was done and I was feeling strong again.  Unfortuneately, once he returned, I went back to my lazy old ways and here I am...gained the 10lbs and weaker again.  So, starting today, I am getting the Total Gym dusted off and working out like I did 16 years ago....wish me luck!!!!  Oh, I am 58 years old.

good for you!  soon you will have to call yourself "used to be weak"!!!

with every pound of muscle you gain, you will be burning more fat even when you're not doing anything... I love that about weight lifting.

thanks for the inspiration!


I retired a year ago at age 64.5.  A dog needing a good home fell into my life and she got me walking three times a day.  Besides the exercise, it gets me out in nature everyday which is emotionally healthy.  My community offers an excellent and inexpensive hour long yoga class twice a week. Once I hit 65, I joined Silver Sneakers and do aerobics 3 to 5 days a week for free.  These classes include working with weights (I bring my own 8 pounders and a tighter stretchy band than those provided) and jumping around to work up a good sweat.  I'm more fit now than I was 25 years ago!  I bought a stand up paddle board and have no problem balancing on it.  I hike, paddle, peddle and ski with ease.  I know it sounds like a lot of hours but it is so worth the time.  I also follow a Mediterranean diet, am NEVER hungry and now have a BMI of 24.9.  My goal is BMI 23. Life is Great!

I just got over being sick from a virus that morphed into a bronchial problem, it took me far too long to get over it.  One lesson I learned is that I had let all exercising go because I was discouraged from not losing weight.  I need to lose a lot and coming into 59 yrs old has got me discouraged.  Reading about strength training and those in their 60's doing it and getting good results is giving me a shot in the arm that I need. thank you all!


Post Your Comment

Join Calorie Count - It's Easy and Free!