Building Muscle Mass: The Key to Aging Gracefully

building muscle mass

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In a world that often tells us to gracefully age like a fine wine, we're here to suggest a different approach: age like a sculpted masterpiece. An overlooked part of healthy aging is the role that maintaining and building muscle mass can play in our overall health and wellbeing. Get ready for a blog that contains a blend of science, sweat, and a sprinkle of wit as we dive into the secrets of fortifying your physique against the relentless march of time. Let's redefine what it means to grow old!

The Importance of Maintaining Muscle Mass as We Age 

muscle mass and aging

Most people begin to gradually decrease muscle mass with aging. This decline can start as early as our third decade of life. This can result in a loss of 3 to 8 percent of our muscle mass with each passing decade. This is particularly important for women. The average woman can lose up to 23% of her muscle mass between the ages of 30 and 70.  The repercussions of this are not just limited to a diminished physical strength or a reduced capacity to perform daily activities. In fact, maintaining muscle mass has a significant influence on our metabolic health.

If the loss of muscle mass becomes great enough to be clinically significant, sarcopenia is diagnosed. Research has shown that up to 45% of elderly Americans are impacted by sarcopenia. This condition can lead to frailty and a decline in our physical function, disrupting our ability to carry out everyday tasks efficiently. For example, if someone loses a significant amount of muscle squatting off a chair or lifting an item off a shelf all become more challenging. As our muscle mass decreases, we might notice we get tired more easily, or that we struggle to carry groceries or climb stairs. However, the effects of losing muscle mass extend beyond these physical limitations.

The interplay between muscle mass and metabolic health is crucial. If we aren’t using our muscles enough to keep our muscle mass, it is likely that we aren’t doing a lot of physical exercise. Without physical activity we are more likely to have a higher body fat percentage. This decline in muscle mass and increase in body fat can contribute to a lower metabolism, leading to potential weight gain and health complications. Thus, maintaining muscle mass is not just a concern for our physical strength, but is intimately linked with our overall metabolic wellbeing.

In essence, maintaining muscle mass as we age is about more than just preserving our physical abilities—it's about safeguarding our overall health and wellbeing. The preservation of muscle mass provides a buffer against metabolic disorders, and helps us age healthily and maintain an independent and active lifestyle.

How Muscle Mass Affects Our Metabolism 

muscle increases metabolism

One of the primary ways that muscle mass influences our metabolism is through its impact on our resting metabolic rate.  Resting metabolic rate is the amount of energy (aka calories) that your body requires to properly function while resting.  It is literally the measure of calories that are burned when we are completely relaxed.  As a metabolically active tissue, muscle continually burns calories, even when we are at rest. This means that the more muscle we have, the more calories we burn throughout the day, irrespective of our level of physical activity. In contrast, fat tissue does not have the same metabolic activity. Hence, if we lose muscle mass and gain fat, our overall metabolism slows down. This decreased metabolic rate can lead to an increase in weight, and subsequently, the risk of obesity, diabetes, and other related health issues.

But the influence of muscle mass on our metabolism extends beyond just calorie burning. Muscles also play a critical role in managing blood sugar levels. Muscles can pull glucose from circulation and store it for later use. This is a great way for our bodies to help regulate our blood sugar levels and efficiently store energy to power a future workout or physical activity.  Therefore, when we maintain or increase our muscle mass, we essentially increase our body's capacity to store glucose. This can lead to improved insulin sensitivity and better regulation of blood sugar levels. In this way, muscle mass plays a crucial role in reducing the risk of metabolic conditions like diabetes.

The Link Between Muscle Mass and Metabolic Health 

muscle and metabolic health

Preserving muscle mass is crucial for supporting your body's metabolic processes. These metabolic processes involve the conversion of food into energy and are vital for overall wellbeing. When these processes are functioning efficiently, we say a person has good metabolic health. However, if these metabolic processes are compromised, the risk of developing diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity increases.

Muscle mass aids in fostering metabolic health in several ways. For instance, it helps enhance insulin sensitivity. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels by facilitating the uptake of glucose into cells. Improved insulin sensitivity implies that less insulin is required to keep blood sugar levels under control, thus lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Muscle mass also supports blood sugar management. Muscles serve as a reservoir for glucose, the primary sugar our bodies use for energy. By preserving or increasing muscle mass, we augment the capacity of our bodies to store glucose. This enhanced storage can contribute to stable blood sugar levels.

Another noteworthy point is the role of muscle mass in mitigating the risk of metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions - including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol levels, and excess body fat around the waist - that occur together and increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. By helping regulate blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels, muscle mass plays a key part in warding off metabolic syndrome.

Strategies for Building and Maintaining Muscle Mass 

how to build muscle

Building muscle mass and preserving it as you age doesn't have to be a complex task. It also doesn’t have to be doom and gloom as if we are condemned to losing muscle mass. There are several straightforward approaches that can be incorporated into your daily routine. One effective strategy involves strength training exercises, which could be lifting weights or performing bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, squats, or lunges. These activities, when performed consistently, promote muscle growth and help to combat the natural muscle loss associated with aging.  The most basic rule of thumb when it comes to muscle is “use it or lose it.” Our muscles only become weak if we don’t use them.  Start with small changes, as they can have a big impact. Strength training for just 30-60 minutes per week can lower our mortality risk by over 10%.  If you are unsure of how to get started with a strength training routine check out our sample workout routines in the blog “A Beginner’s Guide to Exercise for Metabolic Health.”

Nutrition also plays a pivotal role in muscle development and maintenance. Specifically, a diet rich in protein can fuel muscle growth and repair. While protein needs vary by age, health status, and physical activity levels, shoot for a minimum of 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. Distributing this protein intake evenly throughout your meals during the day can optimize muscle protein synthesis, the process by which your body builds new muscle tissue.

Sleep, though often overlooked, is a vital element of muscle growth and recovery. Quality sleep provides your body the time it needs to repair and build muscle tissue.

Beyond physical activity, nutrition, and sleep, regular health check-ups can also be beneficial. They can help identify and address any potential health issues that could interfere with muscle mass maintenance or the body's metabolic processes.

All these strategies, when combined, can contribute significantly to the building and preservation of muscle mass, which is crucial to aging healthily and maintaining metabolic health. However, it's essential to remember that every individual is different, so what works best for one person might not work as effectively for another. Therefore, it's advisable to consult with healthcare professionals, such as a doctor or dietitian, to create a personalized plan that suits your needs and capabilities.

The Role of Muscle Mass in Aging Gracefully 

muscle and aging

The maintenance and growth of muscle mass serve as vital contributors to the process of aging with elegance and poise. This isn't just about looking physically fit or having the ability to partake in strenuous activities. It's more about the indirect benefits that come with a body that's well-kept and robust. Maintaining your muscle mass can significantly improve your mobility, helping you to move around freely and with ease. It enhances your balance and stability, significantly lowering the risk of dangerous falls and bone fractures that can greatly affect your quality of life as you get older. Muscle strength can also contribute to a heightened sense of self-reliance, providing the ability to perform daily tasks independently. This can lead to increased self-confidence and a positive outlook on aging. By focusing on building and preserving muscle mass, you are investing in a healthier, more active lifestyle for your golden years.


Author: Dr. Colleen Gulick