As many of us have already noticed, muscle mass decreases as we progress through life. As early as the fourth decade of life, adults lose 3%-5% of muscle mass per decade. The rapid occurrence of the decline increases to 1%-2% per year after age 50. Having toned muscles is more than having the confidence of wearing a tank top in the summer, but they keep us strong. They help burns calories (even at rest) and helps us maintain our weight. Muscles are also essential contributors to our balance and bone strength throughout our life span. Without strong muscles, we can lose our independence and our mobility.
Is it Ever too Late to Build Muscle?
The good news is that muscle mass can increase at any age in response to exercise. In a study that looked at weight lifting and older adults, reasearchers observed 100 male and female residents of a nursing home in Boston (age range: 72 to 98 years of age). The average age was 87 where subjects lifted weights with their legs three times a week for 10 weeks. At the end of the study, there was an increase in thigh mass of 2.7%, walking speed increased 12%, and leg strength increased a whopping 113%! In a similar study of adults 65-79 years old, subjects who lifted weights three times a week for three months, increased their walking endurance by 38% (from 25 minutes to 34 minutes) without appreciable increases in mass.
Ida Weiss, a 91-year-old participant in the Boston study, had the following to say after the study;
“It’s very beneficial for me. Things that I couldn’t do when I came here, I can do now. I didn’t think that I was going to live anymore, but I feel different now.”
The key to longevity is to start with healthy habits early and practice a lifestyle of prevention. Perhaps running may not be your exercise of choice, however, there are other forms of exercise such as swimming or brisk walking that will increase endurance and will keep your muscles strong. Choose activities that you enjoy and be creative with changing them up periodically. Keep in mind, exercise is invigorating and can help you remain independent longer.