When you get older, you lose muscle. That’s how your body works.
The thing is, if you’re not using the muscle you have you’re going to lose it even faster.
Age-related muscle loss, called sarcopenia, can lead to weakness, poor balance, frailty, and a loss if independence. It can also boost the risk for falls.
You lose muscle slowly after the age of 40 – about 1 percent per year. But it can drip away faster the older you get. Injury and illness can play a role, but the most common cause of atrophy and sarcopenia is inactivity.
If you have been sick or had an injury that’s forced you to stay inactive, you can rebuild lost muscle. Even if you’ve always been inactive, you can start building and strengthening muscle to enjoy the benefits it provides. And the more muscle you started out with, the less quickly it should disappear.
A 2015 study found that older men who did 8 weeks of strength training lost about a quarter of their gains after they stopped exercising for two weeks.
But muscle can be built back with consistent effort. Muscle is expensive for the body to carry around, so when it’s not being regularly used and fed the body will naturally unload it.
What do you do to keep it around or build it back up? Exercise regularly. Lift weights to focus on all the major muscle groups at least twice per week, and be sure to stay active in other ways on the other days. Walking, dancing, or any kind of load-bearing activity is preferred.
Exercise is only half the story. The other thing muscle needs is nutrition. Eating protein throughout the day can help muscle build and get stronger. Exactly how much is debatable, aiming for about .5 – 1 gram per pound of bodyweight should do the trick.
Aside from protein, you’ll want to eat fruits and veggies loaded with micronutrients and carbs to help muscles energize and recover, as well as healthy fats to help muscle-building hormones circulate.