In a recent article in the New York Times, Can You Regain Muscle After 60, author Gretchen Reynolds discussed research done in which “men and women in their 60s and 70s who began supervised weight training developed muscles that were as large and strong as those of your average 40-year-old.” This is important because what keeps us able to do what we want as we age, is muscle. Strength, power, and your resting metabolism depend on gaining, or at least not losing, muscle. So, how do we do that?
Let’s start with the idea of not losing what you have. In a previous post, How Many Years Do You Have Left?, I mentioned sarcopenia, or the physical declines that come with muscle loss. Sarcopenia is predominantly caused by a lessening of physical activity as we get older. One of my favorite examples of someone not slowing down as he got older, was my father-in-law, Karl Stirner. Karl was a metal sculptor (he passed early in 2016 at the age of 92). He hauled iron around on a daily basis until he was almost 90. His strength always amazed me. That continued physical activity kept him young and physically capable of living life on his terms. The same can be true for you. If you are physically active, stay that way. If you’ve had a physical job all of your life and you find yourself retiring or changing jobs, find other ways (maybe more fun ways) of staying active.
What if you’ve never been never been active or worked out or it’s just been a really long time since you have? You need to start to build muscle. The best way to do this is resistance training. This includes free weights, machines, tubing, body weight, etc. As long as the exercise is challenging to you within a general repetition range of 8 – 20 repetitions, it’s going to help you build strength and muscle. However, start small, start light. With the prospect of doing this for the rest of our lives, we can take our time building the intensity and the volume of the program. This will help minimize the risk of injuries. I will often only give 5 or 6 exercises to someone just starting out. One set of 12 repetitions for each of the exercises on day one and then see how they feel the next day. If they are not too sore and have no issues, we can start to progress the program. Ultimately, the program has to become very challenging or you won’t have enough stimulus to build muscle.
Finally, you need to support muscle growth by eating enough calories and enough of those calories coming from protein. That will be my next post. In the mean time, know that you can (and should) build strength and muscle no matter what your age. If you’re doing it, keep doing it. If you’re not, get started. It’s never too late.
Please, if you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments.
2 thoughts on “Building Muscle After 50”
Hi Mark! There gave been some medical journal articles on increased need for protein intake in older people, in addition to resistance training. Now that I am an old person…..
Hey, Rebecca. Yes, there are plenty of articles suggesting a need for an increased amount of protein as we age. Here’s one: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-blog/seniors-beef-it-up-to-prevent-muscle-loss/bgp-20136508. I’ll look at this more in my next post, but note that this article is referencing the RDA of .8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. This level is a “survive” level and not a thrive level. We should all be getting more protein than that. That goes for young and old alike.