Many physiological changes occur as we age including muscle loss. Starting in the late 30’s we lose ¼ lb. of muscle a year. We see a clear drop off in muscle mass around the mid-50’s, with muscle strength declining by about 15% in the 60’s and 70’s and about 30% thereafter. This age-related muscle loss is called sarcopenia.
This muscle weakness contributes to some of the major health risks for the frail elderly like immobility, falls, and fractures. Daily activities such as getting up out of a chair and climbing stairs can be inhibited. Having less muscle also alters the metabolism, which can lead to obesity, impaired glucose tolerance, and changes in the body’s ability to regulate temperature. It also can result in weaker bones.
One way to counteract these effects of aging is to do some resistance training. This along with balance exercises can help older adults build muscle strength and improve functional fitness so they are able to continue to live independent lives. A common mistake made by seniors in their strength training is to use weights that are too light. For maximum benefit, lift weights that are 80% of the maximum you can lift. In other words, you should be able to lift it 10, but not 15, times. Strength training exercises should be done 2-3 times weekly. This can make a big difference in the quality of our lives as we age.
Proper nutrition is also important to maintain muscle mass. Most seniors don’t consume enough protein. A simple rule of thumb is to consume ½ of your body weight in grams of protein. So, a 150 lb. person should consume 60-80 grams of protein daily. An egg has 8 grams of protein; a cup of greek yogurt has 16 grams of protein; 4 ounces of meat, fish, or poultry has 30 grams of protein.
September 21-27 is Active Aging week, so be sure to keep these tips in mind as you focus on leading a healthy, active lifestyle.
By: Susie Carter, a Health Educator for Valley Health, has her B.S. degree in Community Nutrition from Virginia Tech. She is a weight management coach, spinning instructor and former Weight Watchers leader.
For more tips visit the International Council on Active Aging at: www.icaa.cc
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