How to maintain your muscle mass as you age

An increased muscle mass often helps us in many ways than we know. From maintaining our body weight to a decrease in body fat, maintaining muscle mass is essential if you want to lead a healthy life. Not only does it help you physically, but also helps in building your immunity, increasing your energy levels and reducing stress. But how to maintain muscle mass?

To maintain your muscle mass, strength training is essential. Without strength training, people will witness a decline in their muscle mass. A study, published in the Muscle, Ligaments and Tendons Journal, states that muscle strength declines after you turn 40 years by 16.6 percent and 40.9 percent. Read on to know how you can preserve your muscle mass.

What is muscle mass?

Muscle mass refers is the soft muscle tissue in the body, and it decreases as we age. Our body is made up of body fat, muscle mass, bones and fluid, collectively known as lead body mass. Muscle mass specifically refers to the size of our muscles. “It includes skeletal muscles which are responsible for mobility, balance, and strength. They make up around 35 percent of the body weight, depending on factors like gender, height, and fitness routine,” says fitness expert Wanitha Ashok.

However, it can be very hard to calculate muscle mass as it depends on various factors. According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, the average muscle mass percentage for women between the years of 18-35 is 31 to 33, while that of women between 35-55 years is 29-31.

Why is muscle mass important to the body?

Here are some key reasons why muscle mass is important for our bodies:

1. Strength and mobility

You need lean muscle mass for strength and mobility, it contributes to overall strength and functional mobility. These muscles allow us to move, lift objects, and perform day-to-day activities with ease and prevent injuries. A study, published in Annals of Rehabilitation Medicine, states that a reduction of mobility in our bodies is caused by a reduction in muscle mass.

2. Decrease leads to weight gain

Muscles are metabolically active tissues, that burn calories even at rest. A decile in muscle mass brings down metabolism and leads to weight gain. However, it is important to maintain muscle mass during your weight loss journey. A study, published in Advances in Nutrition, suggests that weight loss should be accompanied by a hypocaloric diet with adequate protein intake and increased physical activity to maintain muscle mass.

A woman working out
In order to maintain your muscle mass, make sure you have proper execution of exercises and alignment. Image courtesy: Freepik

3. Protection

Muscles provide support to bones, especially around joints. Muscles are like shock absorbers, they caution and protect the joints, and they stabilise the body during physical activities, reducing the risk of injuries. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, a decrease in muscle mass leads to an increased risk of falls and fractures

4. Helps with diabetes

The surprising benefit of muscle mass is it plays an important role in regulating blood sugar levels and can improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. A study, published in Nutrition & Diabetes, suggests that less skeletal muscle mass is linked to higher odds of prevalent diabetes.

Diet to maintain muscle mass

Building and maintaining muscle mass requires a balanced diet along with strength training exercises. A healthy diet with adequate protein helps support overall health and in building lean muscle mass. Adequate Protein is required to build, repair and maintain muscles at the cellular level. Excess protein can tax the kidneys and raise the uric acid levels so please monitor your intake. “Aim for 1 gram of protein per kg body weight. If you are 50 kilos consume 50 grams of protein every day,” says Ashok.

Include protein in every meal, shuffle your protein source every day, and stay consistent. “Have your protein within 30 minutes of your workouts as this is known as the golden hour and absorption of nutrients is optimal,” adds Ashok.

Here are some good sources:

  • Eggs top the list as it has high-quality protein and amino acids.
  • Salmon provides protein, B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Lean meant like chicken breast is a good source of protein and Vitamin B.

Vegetarians can consume complex carbs like oats, brown rice, millet, quinoa and veggies like broccoli, peas, sweet potatoes, pulse, lentils, sprouts, paneer in moderation and tofu.

Exercises to maintain muscle mass

Total body strength training is the best for maintaining muscle mass. It is important to aim for 2-3 sessions every week. Here are some exercises that you can incorporate into your routine on alternate days. However, it’s good to keep changing the workouts to prevent repetitive stress injury and muscle memory, says Ashok.

A woman working out
Make sure to warm up well while doing exercises to maintain muscle mass. Image courtesy: Freepik
  • Squats: It’s a compound exercise that targets all muscles in your lower body like the quads, hamstrings, calves and glutes.
  • Deadlift is yet another compound exercise engaging multiple muscle groups, including the back, hamstrings and core.
  • Bench Press and work on your upper body muscles like chest, shoulders and triceps. You can use external resistance like barbells, physio balls, mini bands or dumbbells
  • Shoulder Press, also known as Military Press, targets the deltoids and upper arms you can use the external resistance of your choice or even better variate the resistance.
  • Ab workout: Variate between standing, seated and supine positions. Include different kinds of crunches, planks and oblique workouts.

Use body weight or external resistance to perform these exercises. Ab workouts should be complemented by working on the lower back the opposite muscle. Here are some lower back exercises: cobra, Bhujanga, glutes bridge, cat and cow, bird – dog and Superman.

It is essential to have at least one to two days between sessions to allow for recovery and muscle repair. You have to build your workouts progressively and challenge yourself by increasing weights or reps as you get stronger. Too much too soon will leave you fatigued, and injured and develop hatred towards exercising.

A typical total body strength training session for general fitness usually lasts 60 minutes. “One should not overlook warm-up, as it prepares the just for the forthcoming activity, increases blood flow, ups performance and prevents injuries,” says Ashok, adding, “A 5–10 minute specific warm-up with dynamic stretches is recommended.”

For strength training focus on compound exercises. Aim for 3–5 sets of each exercise with 8–12 repetitions per set. Build this slowly. If you are new to exercising even one set is good. Rest between sets for 20-30 seconds depending on your fitness levels. Spend 5–10 minutes doing static stretching to prevent lactic acid buildup and prevent muscle soreness.

Proper execution of exercises and alignment is important to see results and prevent injuries. You may seek professional help to structure your workout and to be monitored. Listen to your body, rest well, feed your muscles and grow your muscles.

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