Whether you just finished moving to a new house or you recently rearranged your living room furniture for a new sofa, the aches and pains you're feeling are worse than usual. You think to yourself, "What happened to my strength?" And as you gently ease yourself onto that new sofa, you recall hearing about a study that says you can regain muscle mass and slow this part of the aging process. But how do you go about it?
The Natural Process of Losing Muscle Mass
First, losing muscle mass is an undeniable fact about aging. According to Amanda Carlson, a registered dietitian and the director of performance nutrition and research at an Arizona training facility, adults can lose "five to seven pounds of muscle tissue each decade."
Failing to regain muscle mass makes simple tasks -- such as walking around the block, climbing stairs, or simply rising out of a chair -- more difficult. It also increases your risk of osteoporosis and falls, one of the most common injuries as humans age. Luckily, the loss of muscle mass is mostly reversible.
The Right Exercise and Diet Increases Muscle Mass
Numerous experts recommend resistance and weight training as the best ways to rebuild muscle. And in addition to building muscle mass, this type of exercise increases bone mass, which is another key to remaining mobile as you age. Start with an easier activity such as water aerobics, light dumbbells, or stretch band exercises, and then progressively add more weight and repetitions (reps). A University of Alabama exercise expert recommends slowly advancing to weights heavy enough that you can barely complete a dozen reps before your muscles have to rest. Take a brief break, and then repeat each set of reps two or three times. You should work out three days a week, using different exercises to work your chest, legs, shoulders, back, and arms.
What you eat is equally important when it comes to regaining muscle mass. The body needs protein to build new muscle, so eating high-protein foods like fish, chicken, turkey, and vegetables will enhance your strength-building efforts. In fact, according to David Heber, director of UCLA's Center for Human Nutrition, says that if you don't consume enough food, your muscles won't have the nutrition they need to get bigger and stronger after being pushed during a workout.
According to a Tufts University professor, an active 70-year-old is probably "younger" -- from the standpoint of muscle strength, body composition, balance, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels -- than an inactive 40-year-old. If you feel like you should work on regaining muscle mass, talk to your physician. You may also want to work with a trainer at your fitness center. Talking to these professionals will ensure that you're being as kind to your body as possible.