I think most people agree that fitness is important at any age, but especially after your 40s. When clients make their health a priority, they blossom. Deciding to spend your resources (time and energy) on exercise even pays dividends well beyond a longer and healthier life. Muscle loss begins around age 35. That’s right, on average, adults who don’t do regular strength training can expect to lose 4 – 10% of muscle mass per decade. This doesn’t sound like much but these changes could soon add up in your 40s and 50s. And this process of muscle loss speeds up to 30% or more by the time you are in your 70s and 80s according to the researchers at Harvard Medical School. Like muscle mass, bone strength starts to decline at an average rate of 1% per year after age 40, and up to 20% for women during menopause, which can significantly increase bone loss. Learn how to counteract muscle and bone loss well into your 80s and 90s.
On average, adults who don’t do regular strength training can expect to lose 4 to 6 pounds of muscle per decade. And that’s not all, you replace that firm, compact muscle with fat around your body and waistline. This is because losing muscle decreases your metabolism. A slow metabolism burns fewer calories, which means more fat gets stored in your body. Consequently, if you’re trying to lose weight by cutting calories, you’re likely losing even more muscle over time. Strength Training can counteract this effect. According to a research review in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, when participants dieted, on average 27% of the weight they lost was muscle. But when they combined dieting and resistance training, all of the pounds lost were fat.
Muscle loss can also affect your daily activity level as you become weaker and simple tasks such as standing up from the chair or going up the stairs will become harder. You will avoid activities which will contribute to more weakness and become a downward spiral. Stronger muscles not only help with making everyday tasks like carrying groceries and walking up the stairs easier but can also improve cognition and memory . A study of British twins (ages 43 to 73) in the journal Gerontology found that, among 324 twin pairs, those with the most muscle strength maintained the best performance on memory and cognitive tests over a 10-year period—and had greater brain volume on brain scans.
Like muscle mass, bone strength starts to decline at an average rate of 1% per year after age 40, and up to 20% for women during menopause, which can significantly increase Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis affects about one in five women over age 50, but only one in twenty men. The National Institute on Aging identifies the following risk factors for osteoporosis: physical inactivity, poor diet, heavy use of alcohol, family history and low body mass index or being underweight. According to a study in the National Library of Medicine, strength and power training can slow down osteoporosis or even build bone density in postmenopausal women and middle aged men. While it may seem counterintuitive, strength and power training can prevent this by putting stress on the bones to stimulate calcium deposits to form stronger and denser bones.
It’s never too late to build muscle mass and bone health. A well-rounded, progressive strength and power training program that workout out all the major muscle groups can be beneficial at any stage of life. Studies in children and young adults have found improvements in sports performance (among athletes), body composition (among those who are overweight or obese), and physical and psychological well-being (across all categories). And benefits continue across your lifespan, even into your 80s and 90s. Some research has included subjects as old as 98 and has shown that strength training helps the elderly stay independent longer.
Numerous studies show that strength training can also have a significant impact on your metabolism. Researchers found that strength training can increase your metabolic rate (the rate at which your body converts energy stores to working energy) by up to 15%. This means that you burn more calories, even while you’re sleeping. This is technically called “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption,” it is the extra calories you burn after a strength training session as your body returns to its normal state. One study found that on non-exercise days following strength training, participants burned on average an extra 240 calories a day through everyday activities—a significantly higher amount than on days following cardio sessions.
Another research led by researchers at the University of Sydney, conducted a clinical trial for older people at high risk of Alzhemiers disease due to mild cognitive impairment. Researchers found that six months of strength training (lifting weights) can help protect brain areas especially vulnerable to Alzhermis’s disease up to one year later. The more muscles you have and the stronger your muscles are, the more benefits you will get, and the benefits continue across your lifespan. Given that you only need to put in an hour or two of strength training per week, that’s a lot of benefits.
“The message is clear: resistance exercise needs to become a standard part of dementia risk-reduction strategies.“ Professor Michael Valenzula ~
Strength training and proper nutrition can have a dramatic effect on muscle mass and bone density. Increased protein intake has been suggested as an effective strategy to treat age-related muscle and bone loss. According to the Institute of Medicine, the daily requirements for protein intake for people over 60 is 0.5g/Ib/day. However, some researchers argue that this is not an adequate amount. People who are engaged with regular fitness activities can increase their protein intake up to 0.7g/Ib/day or according to their daily activity level. However, change in protein intake alone is not enough to see a significant result in muscle or bone mass. Studies suggest that a combination of both, strength training and a balanced diet is necessary to counteract muscle and bone loss. Fortunately, you can maintain your muscle mass and bone mass well into your 80s and 90s with a proper diet and a progressive strength training routine.
Your strength and power training should be tailored specifically for you according to your age and goals. The goal is to design a progressive plan that incorporates specific exercises and focus on load, repetitions, and rest periods and should challenge but not overwhelm you. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that as little as 20-30 minutes of weight-bearing exercises, three days a week was sufficient for building muscle and bone density. Make sure to check with your family doctor before embarking on any kind of strength-training routine. Then seek a well-qualified coach and nutritionist to help you set up a detailed and progressive plan that is according to your needs.
A typical strength training program may include the following:
Goodpaster, B.H., Park, W.W., Harris, T.B., Kritchevsky, S.B., Nevitt, M., Schwartz, A.V., Simonsick, E.M., Tylavsky, F.A., Visser, M. and Newman, A.B.(2006). The Loss of Skeletal Muscle Strength, Mass, and Quality in Older Adults: The Health, Aging and Body Composition Study. The journals of Gerontology. Series A, Biological sciences and medical sciences, 61(10), pp. 1059-1064.
Harvard Medical School (2020). Strength and Power Training for All Ages. Four complete workouts to tone up, slim down, and get fit. Harvard Health Publishing. Boston.
Lang, T.F. (2011). The Bone-Muscle Relationship in Men and Women. Journal of Osteoporosis.
Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter (2014). Protein Plus Exercise Equals Less Muscle Loss with Aging. Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, 32(4), pp. 7.
University of Sydney (2022). Strength Training can protect the brain from degeneration. Clinical trial for older people at high risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Available at: https://www.sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2020/02/11/strength-training-can-help-protect-the-brain-from-degeneration.html (Accessed 14 May 2023).
Vopi, E., Nazemi, R. and Fujita, S., (2010). Muscle tissue changes with aging. Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care,7(4), pp. 405-410.