It’s easy to get distracted by the “surface signs” of aging, like lines and wrinkles.
It’s easy because it’s literally what we see in the mirror.
There’s something far more valuable we can focus on if we want to slow down our aging.
It’s natural to lose muscle as we age, and that’s a problem.
Age-related muscle loss is called sarcopenia. Sarcopenia contributes to some of the most common difficulties confronted by humans as we age.
Sarcopenia leads to more falls, greater risks of injury, chronic disease, immobility, and so much more.
It’s a simple equation: the less muscle mass we have after age ~40, the less freedom and independence we can expect in the following years and decades.
That means gaining and maintaining muscle mass needs to be a top priority for everyone who plans on living past the age of 50.
“Gaining and maintaining muscle mass” is easy to say and sounds simple enough, but what does it mean?
Does it mean you need to be jacked like a bodybuilder who carries around massive slabs of muscle?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a clean and simple equation that says, if you’re this tall, you need X pounds of muscle mass, and you’ll be healthy and independent for your entire life.
What we do have is a general rule of thumb; You should be able to accomplish all of your daily physical responsibilities with confidence and ease, have the capacity to participate in recreational physical activities, and be capable of an age-appropriate physical response in case of an emergency.
What does that look like?
Taking care of household chores, getting up and down from the floor, buying groceries, yard work, having the ability to say yes to recreational activities you want to participate in without fear of your body failing you, and being resilient to reasonable levels of physical trauma you may experience as a result of the uncertainties of life.
Those things will look different for everyone, and the list will evolve as your responsibilities change along with your goals and desires.
In a nutshell, you need enough muscle mass to actively participate in your life until the very end.
Very few people would disagree with that statement; the thing most people miss is how early in life, muscle mass starts to degrade.
According to Harvard Health, adults can start losing up to 3-5% of their muscle mass per decade after the age of 30!
Read that again.
Adults can start losing up to 3-5% of their muscle mass per decade after the age of 30!
This isn’t an issue only affecting senior citizens; it needs to be on the radar for every adult.
What should you do about it?
You can pull three primary levers to set yourself up for success.
Unsurprisingly, exercise, specifically resistance training, is an essential piece of this equation. The amount of exercise you need will vary depending on your goals. The bare minimum of resistance training is 2 days per week, focusing on large muscle groups and compound movements (think squats and deadlifts).
Like everything else, muscle operates on the “use it or lose it” rule. If you stop using it, your body will get rid of it.
It’s too expensive to maintain if it’s not being used. However, the opposite is also true, and it has positive downstream effects.
To maintain muscle, you need the metabolic and hormonal machinery to break down protein into amino acids, the building blocks of muscle, and the signaling to keep it running, the hormones. Exercise creates the best possible environment for that machinery to continue functioning as you age.
As mentioned earlier, protein supplies the building blocks for muscle. As we age, we become less efficient at processing protein to use in our muscles, so our protein requirements increase.
Current recommendations are coming in around 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight to maintain muscle mass as we age.
Regarding aging, protein is your top priority; next is ensuring you’re not overeating to increase body fat. After that, it’s all about backfilling the rest of your calories with wholesome foods that fit your goals, values, and lifestyle.
Sleep is the foundation of every biological process in our bodies, and that goes double for muscle if you’re over 30.
As sex steroid hormones (testosterone/estrogen) decrease beginning in our early 30s, growth hormone plays an ever more prominent role in our recovery. The majority of growth hormone is released during sleep.
Translation, when sleep is lacking, it’s not just your mind that suffers; it’s your body too.
Shoot for 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
Budget for it, like your future, depends on it because it does.
Muscle mass is a primary indicator of your long-term health and independence. Optimizing your lifestyle to support muscle mass maintenance will set you up for success.
Exercise regularly and get at least 2 days per week of resistance training.
Eat enough protein to facilitate muscle maintenance.
Budget 7-9 hours for sleep every single day.
You have control over your future.
You get to choose what it looks like and the life you live. It takes work, and it’s worth it.