I love seeing my girls throw their arms up in the air, grunt, and say “strong!” The other day they were eating lunch and asking where their daddy was. Since Mark was in the basement lifting weights, I told them that Daddy was downstairs getting strong. Of course, showing off their own muscles was the best thing to do. 🙂
There are many kinds of strength, even many kinds of physical strength. But you don’t have to be a bodybuilder or have bulging muscles to be strong. To me, being strong simply means being able to do everything I want to do – and then some – with general ease and without pain. It means that I can hold both my girls, one in each arm, without putting undue stress on my back. It means I can haul a 40lb bag of cat litter over my shoulder and down to the basement without struggling. Strength makes life easier.
Strength also gives you a higher quality of life for longer.
Did you know that your muscle mass peaks by the age of 30? That means most of us are already on the downhill side of that slope. I don’t feel that way, though. In fact, I don’t feel any different than I did when I was 20. Hopefully in 10 years from now I can say the same thing. With that end in mind, I plan to prevent as much muscle loss as possible.
Here’s the deal about losing muscle. It’s not just about the way you look, the way your clothes fit, and whether people can see your muscles flex with the slightest movement. Muscle loss means strength loss and loss of stamina. It means you tire more easily. As you continue to age, it may even mean you need help getting out of your chair. It also means loss of bone density, which means you’re more prone to falls and fractures.
Sounds like a rip-off, doesn’t it? We’re all just victims of the aging process.
Though your body may be going “downhill” as you age, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it. You have the power of choice, so you can decide to hang on to as much muscle as possible or you can sit back and let it go. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: the more muscle you hang on to as you age, the more successfully, and thus, more gracefully, you’ll age.
To hang onto muscle, you need to make sure you’re eating enough protein as well as doing exercises to maintain and increase your strength. As far as protein goes, there are many supplements out there that claim to help build muscle. For some, this may be true. Before you go and purchase these supplements, be sure to get as much protein from the food you’re already eating as possible. Generally speaking, your body will be able to absorb more protein and put it to use building muscle if you spread it out over the day. Aim to eat protein at every meal and every snack.
FitTip: How big you are and how much muscle you have will determine how much protein your body uses to build muscle. Protein does more than build muscle, though. It is also required for synthesizing enzymes, hormones, and other important things. To read more about protein absorption, check out Nutrition Diva’s take on it: How Much Protein Can the Body Absorb?
Different people groups require more protein than others, as well. Young children, pregnant women, and senior citizens all require more protein. So, unless you’re already eating a full-size serving of protein at each meal, don’t cut back on the meat at the table, cut back on something else. Especially as you age. The older you get, the more protein you need to maintain the same amount of muscle synthesis.
Ways to Increase Protein
- Eat eggs
- Eat lean meat
- Add protein powder to your smoothie, yogurt, or oatmeal
- Eat lean meat
- Eat nut butter
- Eat nuts and seeds
- Eat low-fat cheese
- Eat lean meat
I bet you didn’t realize that there’s the same amount of protein in a glass of milk that there is in an egg. You’ll be getting 6-8 grams of protein for each. So drink a glass of milk every day, too!
Ways to Maintain Muscle Mass
Now, let’s talk exercise. The more I learn, the more I’m amazed by the human body. It is so complex; it was designed so perfectly, with many moving parts working together to make a whole. I truly believe that taking care of your body is one of the most important things you can do. If you’re eating the right foods and giving your body the fuel it needs, exercise will not only strengthen your muscles but it will strengthen your bones too.
FitTip: Calcium is essential for maintaining bone density as well as for muscle contractions. In fact, if you don’t have enough calcium stored in your muscle fibers, the muscle will recruit some from your skeletal system, robbing your bones. To make sure your muscles have what they need for optimal performance, eat foods that are good sources of calcium, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, greens (like kale and bok choy), and almonds.
For the best strength-building effects, practice both weight-bearing and muscle-building exercises. Weight-bearing exercise is any activity that requires you to carry your own weight. Honestly, I think of these exercises as cardio, but it’s important not to forget about the strength required to complete them. Do these 2-3 times a week.
Cardio weight-bearing exercises:
- Running / jogging / walking
- Using an elliptical or stair-climbing machine
Muscle-building exercises, or resistance exercises, use weight or some other force to counter against the effects of gravity. When you lift weights, you’re really fighting against gravity to get that object in the air. The resistance can come from weights, such as dumbbells, kettlebells, or training machines, or it can come from your own body weight. You should do resistance training three times a week.
To build muscle, you can’t go too easy on yourself. Lifting weights should get your heart pumping and your muscles working BIG time. If it’s not even a small challenge, then you shouldn’t expect even small gains. To maintain your muscle, you must challenge it!
- Lifting weights
- Using weight machines
- Lifting your own body weight
For the best bang for your buck, stick with compound movements that work large muscle groups and multiple joints. The more muscle fibers you activate during a single movement, the more gains you’ll see. If you only have time for five exercises, make it these, or some variation of these:
- Bench press
In short, strength-training is important for maintaining a high quality of life as you age. To take care of your muscles, eat sufficient amounts of protein (and calcium!) and perform resistance exercises regularly. Life will be easier and you’ll have more energy to do the things that bring you joy.
If you have any questions about protein intake or resistance training, give me a shout: Contact Becky at Fitness Grapevine.