Most people don’t really think about what aging will mean for the body until it starts happening. I mean sure, you probably worried about wrinkles, but what about more practical issues like the loss of muscle mass?
45% of seniors in the U.S. lose muscle mass as they age. The gradual loss of muscle over the years is called sarcopenia. While it influences everyone starting around the mid-40s, as you might expect, it’s much more extreme for people who are inactive in their later years.
Why Maintaining Muscle Mass Matters
Anyone reading this probably doesn’t need that much convincing that losing muscle isn’t a good thing. But the extent of the consequences of sarcopenia may not be self-evident. All of the things that become more difficult in age – doing chores around the house, walking, getting dressed, getting in and out of the bath – they’re all going to be that much more difficult to do the less muscle mass you have.
Loss of muscle mass also contributes to a greater risk of illnesses such as diabetes and osteoporosis. It’s not just about having a harder time lifting heavy objects; losing muscle can influence many aspects of your day-to-day life and health. But you’re not powerless to do anything about it.
How to Keep Your Muscles Working Longer
There are seven steps you can take to slow the effects of sarcopenia.
- Add plenty of protein to your diet.
One of the most important things you can do is include plenty of healthy proteins in your diet. That doesn’t mean to go out and start eating steaks for every meal, but including a healthy mix of snacks and ingredients that include protein in your diet is important
Foods high in protein include:
- Milk and dairy products
This step is a lot less useful though if it’s all you do. For best results, it’s important that you combine it with our next two steps.
- Do weight training.
You don’t have to become a bodybuilder. Even if you just do a few simple weight training exercises each day, you’ll help slow the effects of muscle loss. Pick a specific time of day and make a routine out of it. Commit to just 15-20 minutes to start if you know that’s what will get you to do it. You’ll be glad you did when it’s that much easier taking care of yourself in ten years.
- Do aerobics.
Aerobic exercise won’t have as big of an effect on maintaining muscle mass as weight training, but it’s helpful as well. Aerobics don’t produce big muscles, but they do help strengthen how well your muscles work on a cellular level and are worth including in your routine as well.
- Take vitamin D supplements.
Many people are low on vitamin D without realizing it and the effects of getting too little of the vitamin are serious. Low vitamin D levels are linked to having less muscle strength and an increased risk of falls and disabilities. But it’s a simple enough problem to fix. Ask your doctor to test your vitamin D levels and, if the test shows they’re low, start taking a vitamin D supplement.
- Supplement your diet with omega-3s.
Omega-3 fatty acids are another nutrient that contribute to muscle health. They have anti-inflammatory effects as well as increasing the rate of muscle protein synthesis. You can take advantage of those benefits by adding fish oil or flaxseed oil to your diet.
- Take HMB supplements.
HMB is a supplement that research suggests is useful for slowing or reducing muscle waste. Talk to your doctor before adding any new supplements to your diet, but if they agree it’s worth trying, HMB could be a helpful addition to your efforts to maintain muscle mass.
- Ask your doctor to check your hormone levels.
In women in particular, the hormone balance in your body can have a significant influence on your muscle mass. Your doctor can check your hormone levels each year with blood tests and, if they find important hormones are low, you can take supplements to correct your hormonal balance.
You can’t avoid the affects of aging completely, but you can take steps to make them as manageable as possible. By adding healthy nutrients and habits into your life, you’ll have an easier time living independently for longer.