Maintaining muscle as you age is important for health and longevity. Muscle helps to protect your organs and bones underneath and allows you to move your body. It’s key to movement, and if you resistance train right then you can put on additional muscle mass as you age.

Maintaining Muscle As You Age

Maintaining muscle gets more difficult as we age due to lower testosterone levels, being less effective at utilising protein and sarcopenia which is the increased loss of muscle mass as a result of ageing. Less muscle increases your risk of falls, fractures and other injuries. Those with sarcopenia can expect to lose 3 – 5% of their muscle per decade, but this can be prevented with regular resistance training to preserve, maintain and even increase muscle mass and strength. Sarcopenia increases your risk of having a fracture from a fall by 2.3 times so if we can avoid muscle wasting away, it’s best to.

If you’re determined to maintain muscle, can get your diet, sleep and training right and keep it consistent then there’s no reason why you can’t maintain muscle as you age and compete with the younger teenagers whether it’s outside at the park or in the gym.

A study at Ohio university found that older subjects gained strength ‘at the same rate as untrained young men.’ I wouldn’t agree that this is entirely true, but the older men experienced a 30 – 40% increase in muscle and up to a 100% stamina increase after 16 weeks of strength training.

Benefits Of Maintaining Muscle

Regulates Blood Sugar

Carbohydrates are converted into sugars such as glucose in the body which are stored in the liver and muscle cells as glycogen. Having a greater muscle mass allows your muscles to accommodate greater amounts of sugar in your muscle cells which helps to regulate and control your blood sugar.

Furthermore, after exercise such as resistance training, you will have built up a glycogen debt in your muscles allowing your body to handle a greater amount of carbohydrates without causing such a rapid spike in blood sugar and a subsequent increase in inflammation from having nowhere to put the sugar floating around in the blood (bear in mind that at any one time you only have 4g sugar floating around in your blood).

Reduces Body Fat

Just having muscle on your body burns more calories than having fat. The metabolic requirement and energy required by muscle is higher than fat which can subsequently lead to decreased levels of body fat since you’re burning more calories at rest doing absolutely nothing. However, don’t take this as a ‘eat all I want’ pass – it just means that it will be easier for you to maintain lower percentage of body fat.

Improves Strength

More muscle means you’re stronger. If you’re stronger you can lift more and move your body in more ways. Perhaps you can bear crawl, hang from a tree or even pull yourself up onto a tree using your arms. Strength gives you the ability to do lots with your body. I think the best part about being strong is it allows for various ways to move about so you can be active.

Linked To Increased Longevity

Increased muscle mass is linked to increased longevity. This is likely to be due to numerous factors such as a reduced risk of fractures from a fall, more muscle protecting your bones and vital organs underneath and an enhanced quality of life from simply being able to do more due to having more muscle and being stronger.

Rebuilding And Gaining Muscle

When it comes to rebuilding and maintaining muscle you need to simulate muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth). You can do this via resistance training which encompasses multiple forms of training such as weight training, circuit training, callisthenics and plyometrics. Generally, the best way to stimulate muscle hypertrophy is by weight training since you can pick a weight which is just out of your comfort zone.

You don’t need to lift lots to stimulate muscle hypertrophy. I suggest trying to hit all muscle groups if possible and going to the gym a minimum of twice a week to do so. Don’t feel that you need to perform lots of repetitions of an exercise either. Go for a moderate weight, do a few repetitions, rest and do it again until you’re satisfied. Too many reps can be risky, especially if it compromises your form (which could lead to injury and a few weeks of no training).

Just a short amount of time under muscular tension is enough to stimulate muscle growth. As the exercise gets easier at the current weight, increase your reps so that the difficulty is similar to when you started or increase the weight used. Just be wary of using a weight that is too heavy for you since this could also cause injury if you’re not used to it. If in doubt, I suggest getting someone to teach you proper lifting or exercise technique for the exercise you’re performing and having someone to spot you.

How To Maintain Muscle As You Age

#1 – Resistance Train

As mentioned above, the key factor in maintain and gaining muscle is to stimulate muscle hypertrophy. I suggest doing a form of resistance training and ensuring that you are putting your muscle and body under just enough stress that the exercise or movement is uncomfortable. Go for a moderate weight, do enough reps to feel fatigued, rest and go again until you’re satisfied. Ideally, have someone to show you how to execute proper technique and get someone to spot you. Make sure you train regularly, ideally at least twice a week and stay consistent with your training.

#2 – Eat Ample Protein

Muscle tissue is composed predominantly of protein. It then makes sense that to build muscle, we need to eat enough protein to trigger turn on the genes that stimulate muscle hypertrophy. I suggest trying to consume 2g protein / kg bodyweight on a daily basis and aiming to consume a protein rich snack such as a whey protein shake or a protein rich meal shortly after a resistance training session. This will help to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

#3 – Get Plenty Of Sleep

Sleep is important because this is when you actually recover from workouts and it’s where the ‘growth’ from a workout occurs. Additionally, sleep is important for the secretion of HGH (human growth hormone) which helps to put on muscle.

#4 – Train Regularly

If you don’t use your muscle reguarly, your body isn’t going to see any reason to keep the additional muscle mass. To maintain and build muscle you’re going to need to train regularly to stimulate muscular adaptations.

My suggestion is to try and train 2 – 4 times a week. How often you can train will depend on your lifestyle and other commitments. You may also find that you can’t train 4 times a week initally and you have to start off with twice a week but as your strength and fitness improves you may be able to increase how frequently you train.

If you have to take a week or two off without training then don’t worry too much. Sometimes rest is good and it allows for adaptations to occur. Just make sure when you start, you start slowly and allow for progressive overload where you slowly increase the workload of the exercises you’re doing. This will help to prevent and reduce your risk of injury.

#5 – Aim For A Slight Calorie Surplus

Ideally when putting on and maintaining muscle you want to consume enough energy in the form of calories to fuel your body. It takes energy to create additional muscle cells and tissue to put on muscle mass and it’s difficult for your body to convince itself that it can ‘afford’ to put on muscle if you aren’t consuming enough calories.

A slight calorie surplus is ideal since these extra calories can be used to put on muscle. Too many additional calories and you risk putting on additional body fat, but don’t be too afraid of that. You can lose it again if you are in a calorie deficit, and it’s very difficult to add extra body fat if you consume the majority of these extra calories from protein (higher than the 2g / kg bodyweight minimum suggestion I gave).

So try to aim for a slight calorie surplus or to consume enough energy for what you expend. If your calorie surplus is too great, you’re still likely to put on muscle, but also quite a bit of fat which for most older adults is undesireable.


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Further Reading:

Longevity, Healthspan And Lifespan

Why Runners Should Do Resistance Training