We lose muscle mass with age because of hormone changes and because muscle cells lose their ability to repair themselves. Many lose muscle mass also because they move around less and do less resistance training.
The main problem with losing muscle mass is that muscle cells are critical for maintaining blood sugar and even lipid homeostasis in the body.
For our patients here at Digital Nomad Health, one of our main goals is to increase their muscle mass. The reason is that this fixes many other issues, including high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and high cholesterol.
Obesity Increases Muscle Loss in the Elderly
Some have trouble maintaining or putting on muscle mass as they get older. With excess unhealthy fat in the body, hormones tend to send the wrong signals to muscle cells, causing muscle loss.
If DEXA isn’t ideal, here is a great video that can help you determine your body fat percentage fairly accurately using the visual method.
Unsightly Muscle Mass?
When we say “put on muscle mass,” some immediately think of a buff bodybuilder with veins on their neck and arms. Hardly. To obtain that kind of physique requires the kind of dedication most of us wouldn’t have the resources to invest.
Muscle mass can increase by quite a lot without any change in a person’s appearance, for the worse. Body fat is often replaced with muscle; specifically, it’s the visceral fat that is replaced by subcutaneous fat.
However, it’s inevitable to put on some mass when doing resistance training. For many, it’s a worthwhile visual sacrifice to make.
Increased Muscle Mass Decreased Blood Pressure
Blood pressure management is a complex process, but we see blood pressure go up with age as muscle mass drops. This likely has to do with a few factors not limited to:
- blood vessel elasticity due to nitric oxide
- sympathetic nerve activity in the body
- insulin resistance
- cardiac output and peripheral resistance
A 55-year-old patient of ours had to stop one of his blood pressure medications once we started him on a resistance training routine. Though his muscle mass didn’t change much, he was getting lightheaded, and his readings were in the 105/65 range – a bit too low for a newly minted-athlete.
Suffering injuries is a part of life, and the more active you are, the more small injuries you deal with. But recovering from them requires some cellular fortitude.
Resistance training and increasing muscle mass seem to accomplish that nicely. A few good pulls on the resistance band, getting the muscle to flex from its most outstretched self, can fortify the tendons and ligaments.
Yes, the fear of injury is real; some of our patients don’t want to exercise or lift weights because they are afraid of pain or the injury that will sideline them. Fortunately, the body has evolved or was designed to fix and heal itself.
From depression to exhaustion, fatigue, poor sleep, and the ability to just keep up with others, few activities beat resistance training for increasing stamina.
Stamina is the ability to keep up. It’s being able to recover quickly and suck extra juice out of your body. Cardio does a little bit in this regard, but it’s the healthy muscle cells which is the powerhouse of stamina. Try it if you don’t believe it.
Is Resistance Training Better Than Cardio?
Cardio? It’s good, but it’s a bit exhausting. You can run and do a good bike ride, but you’ll have a good amount of time to recover. You’ll also lose some muscle mass, and your joints will need some attention after most impact-style cardio.
Of course, cardio is amazing when it’s used properly. We find that most people focus too much on cardio (aerobic exercise), which makes weight lifting (resistance training) fall by the wayside.
Actionable Steps To Prevent Muscle Loss With Age
1. Carry Your Resistance Bands
From bicep curls to tricep extensions to squats and deadlifts, there are plenty of exercises you can do every time you get up to take a break from whatever you’re doing.
Going to the bathroom? Do some shoulder raises. Going to the bedroom to change? Do some pullups and pushups.
You can do your yoga routine in the morning to stretch out the ligaments and tendons but you can achieve the same with resistance bands.
2. Get Enough Protein
Well, most of us get plenty of protein, but we don’t get enough calories from proteins. This means the majority of our calories come from carb intake and fat but not enough from protein.
Many exercise gurus insist that your protein has to come from supplements – usually in powder form. Sure, that’s fine, but you can just change your diet as well. Depends on what kind of eater you are. And vegan protein sources are enough for most of us if that’s your thing.
3. Get Enough Sleep
As we get older, we need less sleep, so we get less sleep. But sleep should always be restful. Need to nap? No problem. Only getting 4.5 hours of sleep at night? Generally okay as long as you feel rested.
To prevent muscle as you get older, it’s important to dial in your sleep.
If you’re having trouble with your sleep, we’re here to help. Book a free introductory session with Dr. Mo!
4. Engage in Regular Resistance Training
A meta-analysis of 12 studies of 500 older adults found that resistance training increased muscle mass by 25% and strength by 30%.
2-3 sessions a week is all that is needed. Remember, it’s not cardio; take your time and enjoy the process. 30-60 minutes per session is more than enough.