Wednesday, July 30, 2014

How to Maintain Lean Muscle as You Age

As people age, many assume they are destined to gain weight and get brittle bones. However, if you maintain a healthy diet and incorporate regular physical activity, this does not need to be the case. The average American is extremely inactive. For example, many people use climbing the stairs in their house, parking at the far end of the parking lot, and walking the dog for five minutes outside as their exercise for the day. Sorry to be blunt, but this is just normal daily activities and should not count towards exercise, especially if you have a sedentary office job the rest of the day. Your heart rate should be elevated (due to physical activity) at minimum thirty minutes a day and exercise should be challenging in order to get the most benefit. As you get older, a sedentary lifestyle makes you extremely prone to accelerated muscle loss, weight gain, osteoporosis, depression, and early death, among other harmful effects.

Sarcopenia is the term used to describe muscle loss along with a decrease in muscle strength and/or muscle performance, typically beginning at age 25. However, the older you get, the faster your muscles lose strength due to inactivity. Losing strength puts adults at risk for falls, decreases immunity and wound healing ability, slows the metabolism, and decreases glucose disposal (1). Thus the risk for morbidity increases and many studies show that weaker adults tend to die earlier than those who have more lean muscle. In one interesting study (2), healthy young adults who were placed on bed rest for 28 days lost 2% of their total lean leg mass.  In comparison, healthy older adults who were placed on bed rest for only 10 days lost 10% of their total lean leg mass while consuming the same RDA protein as the healthy younger group. This study was quite significant because it shows that the older adults lost 3x more muscle in only 1/3 the time as healthy young adults (1).

So, as you get older it is incredibly important to keep very active. You are not destined to have a slowing metabolism and become a frail geriatric. You must keep moving all day long and participate in regular resistance training to encourage protein synthesis and muscle strengthening. As you get older, you must work harder at your workouts to get the same results as when you were younger. However, you can still maintain a rockin’ solid body if you work hard. The benefit of getting older is most people have more free time on their hands (ie: retirement). Use this as an opportunity to engage in activities that are social and keep you active instead of falling into the typical adult who spends more than ¾ of their day in sedentary activities. I encourage people to (at least) stand up every 20 minutes- every time you are inactive you are breaking own lean muscle. Sit less move more!

To prevent the breakdown of muscle, people must incorporate resistance training on a regular basis. Try to incorporate resistance training that works every major muscle group at least 2-3 times per week to prevent muscle breakdown. You must also consume lean protein and carbohydrates in order to build muscle. Try to spread carbs and protein throughout the day, as this can help prevent your body from going into muscle stores for energy.

To summarize, just keep moving as you get older! Make sure you are getting your heart rate elevated for at least 30 minutes per day, but keep moving all day long! Don’t let your life just pass you by sitting on the couch, go outside, see people, nature, and enjoy moving! You start breaking down muscle in your 20’s which is why many people begin to gain weight…. It doesn’t have to be that way! If you work hard your metabolism will not slow much at all as you get older.

If you are interested in learning how to eat to preserve lean muscle for your body, schedule an appointment with me at Club La Maison! Many insurance plans cover up 6-10 nutrition sessions per year at 100% with a dietitian including Independence Blue Cross, Highmark Blue Shield, Aetna, AmeriHealth, and Administrator plans. If interested in scheduling an appointment, please email me at:


1. National Dairy Council Webinar on 7/23/14: “Aging and Muscle Loss: Too Young to Worry? Think Again!
2. Paddon-Jones et al. 2004; Kortebein et al. 2007
3. Cruz-Jentoft Age Aging 2010;39(4):412-23; Burton et al. Clin Interv Aging. 2010; 5:217-28. Review
4. Roubenoff, 2003
5. The Journals of Gerontology, August, 2012
6. Dr. Gabe Mirkin's Fitness and Health e-Zine, July 24, 2014,
7. Picture Source: