Our bodies have more than 600 muscles that control a multitude of vital functions. It’s our muscles that provide stability and posture, help us walk and run, carry groceries, brush our teeth and countless other actions. Involuntary muscles, like the heart, perform critical operations such as pumping blood throughout our bodies, pushing food through our digestive tracts and helping us breathe when we sleep.
It’s common for muscle mass to decrease with age, affecting balance, flexibility, stability, and coordination — and lost muscle is often replaced with fat. That’s why having good muscle health is important as you reach 50 and beyond.
These tips will help you gain and maintain muscle strength in the months and years ahead.
Note: It’s important to consult your doctor to discuss any potential limitations, risks or restrictions you have before you begin a new or updated exercise routine.
Weightlifting and resistance exercises
Weightlifting and resistance exercises are two of the easiest ways to improve and maintain muscle strength. But you don’t need to aim for Incredible Hulk strength. Simply lifting small, 2.5-pound hand weights will work — or you can use 3-pound bags of sugar, small sacks of flour or even cans of soup. Start with 10 to 15 reps, two or three times per week. Increase the weight and number of reps as your stamina improves and the last few reps begin to feel difficult.
Resistance bands are lightweight, portable and easy to use in just about any setting. They can also strengthen multiple muscle groups including arms, legs, glutes and abs. Plus, the bands come in various colors and different strengths, so they’re useful for people at all fitness levels. As with weights, start with a comfortable number of reps (usually 10 to 15) and slowly increase your routine.
Walking, running, squats and planks
Aerobic exercises like walking and running improve cardiovascular function and build muscle strength and endurance. If you’re not able to go on a morning jog but want to get some muscle training in, try doing multiple reps of squats, planks, pushups or leg presses — all of which can be done in your living room. To prevent burnout, be sure to mix up the exercises that target each muscle group or combine these exercises with a fun hobby like hiking, dancing or yoga.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT)
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts switch between high-level and low-level activities for short durations. Mayo Clinic researchers discovered many benefits of HIIT on a group of adults over 65. The study participants walked fast for three minutes, then slow for three minutes, alternating speed for 30 minutes, four times a week. Study results showed this particular training reversed some age-related muscle loss and even triggered new muscle growth. Tired of walking on the treadmill? Try this method out when you’re cycling.
Follow a muscle-building diet
Following a healthy diet is essential for total body wellness. According to “Eat This, Not That!” some of the best muscle-building foods are spinach, salmon, quinoa, sweet potatoes, broccoli, berries, beans and almonds. Ensuring that you get enough vitamins and minerals like calcium and vitamin D is also important. Check with your physician to see whether you should be taking supplements. If so, add them to your daily routine.
Get personal or online help and stick with a plan
Remember that any doing physical activity is better than sitting or resting in place. Because physical challenges and limitations are different for everyone, working at your own pace with medical guidance is important. If you need detailed help with building a plan or doing different exercises, consider asking a physical therapist or local fitness trainer for recommendations. Depending on your budget, you can also join an online fitness class like SilverSneakers, use a workout app or follow along with your favorite YouTube workout video.
Overall, for better muscle health, keep your eye on the prize, commit to a regular exercise routine and stick with it.
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