muscle mass as you age
muscle mass as you age

How To Maintain Muscle Mass As You Age

Posted on January 30, 2023 by Henry Ford Health Staff
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As we age it’s normal to experience some reduction in muscle mass, strength and function, a condition known as sarcopenia. These changes begin as early as your 30s and continue at a rate of 3% to 5% per decade.

The good news is that strength training can help you maintain and rebuild muscle at any age. Research shows that older adults see even greater improvements in their muscle strength versus younger adults. "So it’s never too late to start,” says Pamela Webert, MS, ACSM-CEP, an exercise physiologist at Henry Ford Health. “Everyone should be doing strength training as part of their exercise program.”

Why It’s Important To Do Strength Training As You Age

Without strength training, people can lose up to 30% of their muscle mass between ages 50 and 70. After 70, the rate of muscle loss accelerates further. As you lose muscle, you’re at increased risk for osteoporosis, falls and injuries.

“An injury due to poor muscle strength can trigger a cycle that dramatically impacts your physical health,” says Webert. “After a fall, you may become less active, fearing future accidents. You’ll lose muscle mass if you become sedentary, and that increases your risk for more injuries.”

Muscle loss can also impact your balance and energy. Daily activities such as getting dressed, walking and climbing stairs can become more difficult. You may no longer be able to do things you once enjoyed or live independently.

Tips For Starting A Strength Training Program

You’ve probably heard the term “use it or lose it.” According to Webert, that mantra sums up why strength training is essential for maintaining an active lifestyle. “By challenging your muscles, you can gradually build strength and function, preventing falls and injuries,” she says.

There are many ways to perform strength training, including using dumbbells, resistance bands, weight machines or your body weight. Figure out which best suits your ability and resources.

She recommends starting strength training using these strategies:

  • Set goals: Maybe you’d like to try a new sport like pickleball, take regular morning walks or play with your grandkids.
  • Start slowly: Before each strength training session, warm up with either five minutes of dynamic stretching or cardio exercise. If you’re new to strength training, start with one set of 8-15 repetitions for each muscle group. Pick a weight that is challenging, but not so much that you can’t complete the set. Gradually work up to three sets of each exercise, increasing your resistance or weight as your body strengthens.
  • Modify exercises: If you’re participating in an in-person or virtual class, modify the movement to suit your limitations and range of motion . Over time, your strength and range of motion will increase. Avoid doing any exercises that cause pain.
  • Be consistent: Commit to a routine and stick with it. You don’t need to work out for hours each day. Instead, set aside time for two to three strength training sessions each week. You can even break your workouts into shorter sessions throughout the day. Exercising with a workout buddy can also help you stay motivated and consistent.
  • Try exercises that challenge your balance: If you’re physically able, include exercises that are done while standing to improve your balance. For example, standing and doing a shoulder press with dumbbells challenges your balance more than doing the same exercise seated at a machine. Also include standing body weight exercises, such as single leg balance and lateral leg raises. Weight-bearing exercises will improve your bone health, build muscle and improve overall fitness.
  • Ask for help: If you’re new to strength training, meet with an exercise physiologist, physical therapist or athletic trainer to get started. These professionals can teach you the proper form to benefit from each exercise while avoiding injury. You’ll gain confidence as you build your skills, making you feel more comfortable at the gym or class.
  • Add protein to your diet: As you age, your body requires more protein to keep your muscles strong and body energized. Good protein sources include lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, low-fat dairy, lentils and beans. Healthy adults should aim to get between 10% and 35% of their daily calories from protein.

“Strength training, along with 150 minutes of moderate intensity cardio exercise each week, will help you stay active and injury free,” says Webert.


Looking for more information about strength training or want to make an appointment with an exercise physiologist or physical therapist? Call 313-971-1919 or visit henryford.com.

Pamela Webert is an exercise physiologist who sees patients and athletes at the William Clay Ford Center for Athletic Medicine in Detroit.

Categories : MoveWell
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