Use it or Lose it: Building Muscle as you Age

Casey Spangler, Athletic Trainer at Upland Hills Health
Casey Spangler is an Athletic Trainer at Upland Hills Health, and works with a variety of patients, from student athletes to joint replacement patients, helping them achieve their activity goals. 

*Edited to add information about the upcoming StrongBodies program at the end of this post

As you age, you lose muscle, right? It’s just a fact of life, right? Well…not exactly.

There’s actually a name for age-related loss of muscle mass, strength and function: sarcopenia. The onset of sarcopenia can take place as soon as an individual enters his or her 40s, and gradually increases with age. Additionally, as we grow older our bodies produce less testosterone and less protein, both essential for muscle growth.

Sarcopenia may not be entirely avoidable, but the process can be slowed. The best way to delay and decrease the effects of sarcopenia is to be active and make exercise part of a daily routine. The phrase “If you don’t use it you lose it” applies greatly in this instance.

So, what can you do?

Upland Hills Health

Resistance training and eating to build muscle are the keys.

Resistance training should be performed 3-4 times per week. But, resistance training is only effective if it is challenging and stresses the muscles. Simply going through the motions just isn’t enough. The exercises and amount of resistance should be challenging enough to feel the muscles working and to feel physically fatigued by the end.

Proper nutrition is equally as important in building muscle as resistance training. A majority of adults do not consume enough protein in their diets to promote muscle growth and repair. Lean meats, nuts, nut butters, dairy products, and supplements are all good sources of protein.

Research has shown that weakened muscles significantly increase the risk of falls and related traumatic injuries. Muscle weakness leads to less joint mobility and decreased neurologic function (the signals that muscles receive from the brain), which impacts our ability to balance and stabilize ourselves. Strong muscles are key to safely performing daily activities such as walking, getting in and out of cars, using stairs, lifting, bending, and squatting. An older individual’s independence may depend on his or her ability to perform many of these activities.

It is never too late to start to an exercise program to build muscle. It is important to check with your doctor before embarking on a new exercise routine. If you’re unsure where to start after receiving medical clearance, look into consulting a well-qualified personal trainer to point you in the right direction.

Join Occupational Therapist Jennifer Day and Athletic Trainer Casey Spangler for StrongBodies, a program designed specifically for people over age 50, to increase or maintain muscle strength.

Held on Monday and Wednesday mornings, this group offers a comfortable space for people in their 50s and beyond to safely build muscle strength together. No prior experience with exercise or weights is required. $35 covers 12 sessions–February through April. An informational meeting will be held on January 9 at 9 am.

Register by calling the Therapy and Wellness Center at 608.930.7147.

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