Rebuilding the muscle mass you lose gradually over your lifetime is a great way to offset the frailties of old age and bring your metabolism back up to speed. All it takes is a bit of exercise.
It is hard to believe that, once we are mature adults, we begin losing muscle mass at the rate of a kilogram or two every decade. But it’s a fact.
Muscle mass refers to the bulk of the muscular tissue in our bodies. Though we have three different kinds of muscle in our bodies, muscle mass usually means skeletal muscle, the most visible kind of muscle. It’s what gives us our power and strength.
We don’t notice our loss of muscle because it takes place slowly over the years and the lost mass is replaced with fat.
Muscle and metabolism
The amount of muscle you have is a key factor in the regulation of most metabolic activities.
Metabolism is the term used for all the chemical reactions involved in maintaining the living state of our cells.
It involves breaking down molecules to obtain energy and synthesising the compounds needed by our cells.
Our metabolism keeps us alive by transforming energy (ie, burning calories) to run various functions such as digesting food, breathing air, undertaking activities and so on.
Metabolic rate is the speed at which these chemical reactions take place, ie it is the rate at which our bodies burn calories.
Our metabolic rate is controlled by our muscles. Thus loss of muscle as we grow older can slow down our metabolic rate.
But our metabolism can be raised with any sort of exercise; eg just walking for 20 minutes a day.
However the best way to improve metabolic rate when growing old is to build back the muscles you are losing over time, ie reverse your age-associated loss of muscle.
Indeed building muscle is one of the most effective anti-aging strategies available.
The Evergreen Project in Finland is an ongoing study of the effects muscle can have on the aging process. The participants are men and women aged 65 to 94.
Results to date show that those with the most muscle mass are experiencing better mental function, fewer chronic illnesses and long life spans. This suggests that that muscle building bestows a wide-range of benefits on the elderly.
Muscle building exercises
The Human Nutritional Research Center on Aging, at Tufts University in the USA, studied the effect of muscle building therapy on persons aged 63 to 98.
Most of the participants initially needed walking aids or wheelchairs to get around. They took part in special therapeutic exercises.
Over a 10-week period their muscle strength improved significantly. They also experienced improved stamina and stability. Many discovered that they were able to walk unaided after the muscle building exercises.
The best way to build muscle is through exercise. However the particular exercise you do must be suited to the specific purpose of muscle building.
Long endurance exercise (such as running marathons) does not build muscle. In fact, this kind of exercise causes wear and tear on your body. It can hurt your joints. In addition, your muscles get fatigued but do not get effective signals for growth.
Weight lifting is the best way to increase muscle mass. However you must choose weights that you can repeat comfortably 10 to 15 times.
To make a significant difference you only have to work each body part once a week. For best results, your diet should include extra protein.
Older people who wish to build muscle can try the following strategy:
- First work on the large muscle groups in the legs and back
- Only do strength-training exercises three times a week
- Perform exercises at high intensity for short durations
- Increase work load progressively to stimulate the growth of muscles
- Do exercises slowly and smoothly to avoid injury
Exercising for short spells is best for your body. In addition, it is easier to fit into your daily schedule. It is also more enjoyable … remember that rebuilding muscle mass to beat aging should not be a boring chore!