As I get older I’ve noticed that my muscles are less taut than they used to be. I exercise everyday but I don’t get the same results I used to. Even though I know that muscle mass(lean muscle)changes beginning at the age of 40 for women I truly believed that I was doing a good job of preventing some muscle loss and maintaining strong bones. I’ve noticed an accelerated decline of muscle loss in the past 10 years. This decline occurs because the rate of muscle loss is faster than the muscle we gain with age. Our bodies don’t work as efficiently as they used to leading to a slower metabolism, more fat accumulation and muscle weakening or atrophy. There are many reasons for this atrophy but I’ll focus on these 4: age, sedentary lifestyle, medications and disease.
Age Related Changes in Muscle
Muscles lose their size and strength as we age contributing to fatigue, weakness and less tolerance to exercise. This is due in part because the number of muscle fibers start to reduce in size and numbers and this muscle tissue is replaced more slowly. As the nervous system changes, muscles become less toned and the ability to contract them gets more difficult. Bone structure changes result in a loss of bone tissue, calcium and other minerals making this another contributing factor. As if that’s not enough.. our joints lose lubrication (synovial fluid) making them stiffer and less flexible.
We have all heard the saying, “use it or lose it”. By not staying active our joint cartilage begins to shrink and stiffen, reducing joint mobility. A sedentary lifestyle causes muscles to lose their mitochondria. The main function of the mitochondria is to produce energy for various parts of the body. It burns fat or sugar for energy. If the body does not need energy, fat gets stored.This process increases the number of fat cells in the body making it harder to lose weight. This sedentary lifestyle increases the body’s capacity for fat storage, which results in a greater chance for developing high levels of LDL or bad cholesterol.
There are a few medications prescribed for specific conditions that cause muscle weakness or pain. One of those medications is systemic corticosteroids, often prescribed for people with asthma or inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Statins are another one of those medications. They are prescribed for preventing and treating atherosclerosis which causes chest pain, heart attacks, strokes, cholesterol and diabetes.
Many chronic diseases commonly cause muscle weakness. In some of these conditions this is due to reduced blood and nutrient supply to the muscles. Chronic kidney disease, anemia, lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, depression, peripheral vascular disease and chronic pain are some of these diseases. Osteoporosis is a disease directly related to the gradual loss of bone proteins and minerals resulting in fragile bones. Muscle weakness increases the propensity for bone fractures.
What can we do to hold off this muscle loss and maintain strong bones? Well… strength training and cardiovascular exercise are a great way to start. Beginning at any age you can reap significant benefits. Make sure you get the approval of your physician first. Below are some guidelines….
Exercise and Strength Training
The beneficial effects of strength training include replacing muscle, reducing fat, increasing metabolic rate, relieving or decreasing low back and arthritic pain, lowering blood pressure, minimizing osteoporosis, enhancing glucose utilization, depression and improving blood lipid levels.
The amount of exercise on a regular basis should be reasonable and represent a doable commitment of time. Lets face it, if it becomes another chore we will stop doing it like all the rest of those disliked activities. Aerobic activity should be 5 days a week at a moderate intensity.
According to ACSM guidelines 150 minutes per week is recommended.
Muscles are the engine of our bodies. Strength training enables these muscles to get stronger, helping us to use them more effectively and with less effort. For musculoskeletal fitness 8 to 10 resistant exercises performed 10 to 15 times each as a set 2 to 3 days a week is what’s recommended per ACSM guidelines.
Exercise and strength training are essential to living a healthy and productive long life. You don’t need to change every aspect of your life, just make some minor alterations. These changes not only benefit your health, you will feel better, have more energy, be in better moods, and sleep better.