Get fit at every age: Why it’s never too late to start building muscle
Too old to exercise? Think again! We show you how to get fit, healthy and strong — no matter what your age.
Getting older doesn’t necessarily mean we become weak and frail.
In fact, just a little exercise goes a long way to help you maintain muscle mass and strength — and it has a major impact on your quality of life as you age.
But if — like many Australians — exercise has slipped to the bottom of your list of priorities, it can be hard to know where and how to start. So think of HFG as your new workout buddy, motivating you every step along the way …
Muscles are essential to move and stabilise our bodies. For most of our lives we probably take this for granted, even if we don’t do a lot of exercise.
Sure, we accept that some people are physically stronger than others and may be able to do things we can’t do, like lift heavy weights or run a marathon. But, generally, we don’t think too much about how our muscles help us get out of our chair, or stabilise us while we’re walking down a bumpy driveway. Until we learn the hard way. Older people know just how important skeletal muscles are — and how much we rely on them.
What happens when we age?
Ageing, of course, causes our bodies to change. Eyesight begins to fail, hair loses pigmentation and we slowly lose flexibility. From our 30s onwards, there’s another profound change taking place: it’s the progressive loss of muscle mass, strength and function. It’s called sarcopenia.
Sarcopenia contributes to a lower quality of life and potentially, in later years, loss of independence. For most of us, the effects of this condition accelerate after we reach 75, although physically inactive adults will experience a faster, greater loss of muscle mass than most active adults.
Studies have also shown a link between muscle health and bone health. This may be due to specific hormones, as well as exercise levels. It may also be due to ‘bone-muscle cross-talk’ — or communication that occurs between our muscles and bones.
We can’t do anything about our genetic makeup, and we can’t stop getting older and experiencing the inevitable hormonal changes age brings— so let’s look at how we can make a difference.
Exercise turns the key
Muscle tissues change as we age. It’s inevitable we’ll lose some strength, but our level of physical activity can help reduce how rapid and significant those changes are. And the more candles on your birthday cake, the more important daily exercise becomes. The thing to remember is — it’s worth it!
A recent study compared long-term regular exercisers, with an average age of 70, to healthy sedentary counterparts, as well as to younger men, average age 27. Despite noting some wasting of muscle fibres, the researchers found the skeletal muscle of the older exercisers was more similar to the young men than to the older-aged sedentary men. That’s good news for regular exercisers —but we also have good news for everyone else.
Research shows that inactivity is the enemy of our muscles, but newer research has found it’s never too late to start building muscle. In a study of frail nursing home residents (average age 87 years), doing progressive resistance exercise over 10 weeks increased their muscle strength by 113 per cent, and their mobility improved too.
Are you ready to go? Remember to start your new exercise regime slowly to avoid injury or burnout. If unsure, talk to your doctor before starting
Build muscle and burn more kJs!
Pop on your joggers — it’s time to learn about the four types of exercise or training recommended as we age.
Join the resistance
What is it?
Resistance or strength exercise is anything that requires your muscles to move or resist weight. This includes lifting weights, using a resistance band, using your own body weight, climbing stairs, carrying a heavy load— or even heavy gardening.
Why do it?
You’ll improve muscle strength and tone to protect your joints from injury — plus strength training also helps prevent cognitive decline in older people.
Get started Start with step-ups, push-ups, squats and lunges, and do 8–12 reps of each. Aim for two strength sessions a week.
Learn to be flexible
What is it?
Flexibility means being able to move your joints through their full range of motion. Think bending to touch your toes.
Why do it?
Losing flexibility in your hip, knee and ankle joints affects your gait and increases your risk of falls as you get older.
Yoga, Pilates and tai chi can all enhance flexibility, so look for classes in your area. Otherwise, set aside 10 minutes a day to stretch at home. Focus on one muscle group at a time, and hold the stretch for 60 seconds.
Strike a good balance
What is it?
Balance helps maintain stability and prevents falls. If we don’t train ourselves to maintain balance, we can lose it as we age.
Why do it?
By developing greater balance, you’ll improve your coordination and postural stability, maintain your independence and move more confidently.
Practise your balance when you are standing on a moving bus or train, or by standing on one leg (but don’t try this on the bus!). Try to balance on one leg for one minute, then on the opposite leg. You could also try walking backwards, or take up tai chi.
Be hearty about aerobics
What is it?
Anything that gets you puffing a little and helps push your heart rate up is considered aerobic exercise.
Why do it?
Aerobic exercise will not only promote heart health and reduce chronic inflammation, it also helps preserve muscle and boosts emotional wellbeing.
Brisk walking, jogging, dancing, swimming or cycling all count towards aerobic exercise. You should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most— or preferably all — days of the week.
The power of protein
We need more of some nutrients as we age, and protein is one of them. During the ageing process we lose both muscle mass and muscle strength — but the good news is that by combining resistance exercise with adequate protein intake, we increase muscle and reduce body fat.
As we age, we may also be more prone to illness, which can hinder muscle building. When you are unwell or recovering from sickness, make sure to get plenty of protein: it’s essential for a speedy recovery.
How much do I need?
It’s never too late — or too early — to bump up your protein intake. For most of us, the recommended daily intake of 0.8g protein per kilogram of body weight is fine. People aged 70 years and older need
about 25 per cent more protein. For the over-70s, the recommendation is to eat 1g of protein for every kilogram of body weight each day. This means a woman over 70 who weighs 65kg would require eat least 65g of protein a day.
Spreading protein across meals during the day has also been associated with greater muscle strength in older people, so include protein at every meal and in snacks. Add these high-protein foods to your diet:
5–9g of protein per ½ cup (cooked) lentils, beans or chickpeas
7–9g of protein per ¼ cup nuts
9–12g of protein per 40g cheddar cheese
10g of protein per ¼ cup rolled oats with ½ cup milk
10g of protein per ½ cup edamame
11g of protein per 1 boiled egg with 1 slice grainy toast
11g of protein per 170g tub plain high-protein yoghurt
11g of protein per 1 medium baked potato with 3 tbs cottage cheese
12–22g of protein per small can of tuna or salmon
12–19g of protein per 100g tofu or tempeh
13g of protein per small can of baked beans with 1 slice grainy toast
18–24g of protein per 120g (raw) fillet of fish
23–26g of protein per 120g (raw) beef, pork, lamb or chicken
Did you know?
After the age of 30, you lose 3–5% of your muscle mass each decade