Muscle Mass: Why It Matters and How to Get It
Updated: Dec 16, 2021
If you think you are not losing muscle mass because you are too young, you are probably wrong! You start losing muscle mass in your thirties, and it just accelerates from there. The medical term for muscle loss is sarcopenia. The term refers to muscle loss related to aging. It starts to speed up as early as 65 and then accelerates from there. Sarcopenia even happens to active people, but it is especially problematic for inactive people. But there are several strategies you can adopt that will keep you healthy and vigorous in your later years.
Why Do You Lose Muscle Mass?
Several factors are associated with loss of muscle mass, which will explain how to mitigate this problem.
Lack of Exercise. Muscle building requires that the muscles are stressed. The muscle sustains damage when it is stressed, which causes it to increase in mass and size. Without some kind of strengthening exercises, it will be hard to maximize muscle mass.
Decreasing Hormone Levels. Hormones such as testosterone start to decrease as you age. Testosterone is a growth hormone. Low estrogen levels have also been associated with loss of muscle mass in women after menopause.
Not Enough Protein or Calorie Intake. As people age, they tend to decrease their calorie intake and not get nearly enough protein. Estimates are that up a third of older adults do not get adequate protein. Research suggests that older adults who consume more protein can better retain function. We will talk about what functioning means in the next section.
Why Does Muscle Mass Matter?
There are so many activities that we take for granted during the day. “Function” is the ability to do those activities with ease. If you have ever had the experience of breaking an arm or leg, you know firsthand the kind of disability that creates. Suddenly, things you used to be able to do are challenging. Let’s look at how muscle mass keeps you healthy and functioning at a high level.
Fall Prevention. Falls are the leading cause of disability and death for older adults. Fall prevention is multifactorial, but one of the most significant contributors to falls is poor balance and muscle weakness. Even if you were to have a fall and sustain an injury, robust and fast recovery is tied to good strength.
Activities of Daily Living. This term refers to all the activities you do in a day. Examples are bathing, shopping, walking up stairs, cleaning your house, gardening, driving, lifting, and any exercise activities. Muscle mass is necessary to live life to its fullest.
Muscle Mass and Bone Density. If you are losing muscle mass, you are probably losing bone density. Osteoporosis (bone loss) is a risk factor for fractures. The same activities used to increase muscle mass will positively impact your bone density.
How To Increase Muscle
Now we get to the good news. With enough effort and commitment, you can increase your muscle mass. Here’s how:
Consider Hormone Replacement
If your body isn’t producing the hormones you need to build muscle mass, it will be challenging. Consider bio-identical hormone replacement therapy to reach estrogen, testosterone, and DHEA levels. After meeting with us and evaluating your current hormone levels, we can create an individualized hormone replacement plan. Once you have regained your optimal hormone levels, you know that your efforts to increase muscle mass will work.
You might be a biker and think, “I don’t need strength training!” The fact is, biking is not enough to build overall muscle mass and bone density. Research has found that cycling does not provide the bone density benefit necessary to prevent fractures. Not to mention that you aren’t getting a full muscle workout unless you are working the upper body as well.
Regular weight lifting and other resistance training will start you on the path to muscle gain. A minimum of three times a week is recommended. We suggest starting with a trainer if you can to get going. That way, you can get on a safe and sustainable path moving forward. If you choose not to use a trainer, there are group classes at most gyms, or you can go online to the hundreds of live workout programs.
A study in the Journal of Gerontology found, “higher protein intake was beneficially associated with maintenance of physical function in middle-aged, high-functioning U.S. adults over the span of two decades. This association was particularly evident in women.” The message is, you have to get adequate protein intake along with strength building to increase muscle mass.
Protein intake can be especially challenging for vegetarians and vegans. But it is possible. Regardless of your dietary preferences, it is crucial to get enough protein from good clean sources like fish, chicken, legumes, and eggs. Older adults need more protein than younger adults to maintain their muscle mass-about 1 to 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight. Consult with a nutritionist to determine the optimal protein intake for your activity level.
Build Muscle to Stay Healthy
Now that you know you are losing muscle mass, it is never too late to do something about it. Hormone replacement, strength training, and adequate protein intake will help you function and feel better as you age.