Men's Wellness & Health - Strength Training after 50
Do you flex in the bathroom mirror after a shower? Did you just flex a little right after you read that first question? We all do it! No shame in the game of looking and feeling great. Every effort to stay healthy and happy is a reward in itself. There’s an entire internet full of what protein shakes to buy and new equipment you need to make that one “elbow muscle” larger. But why should we take these seriously, are they necessary for your goals? Understanding what’s happening is key to finding solutions.
We equate the loss of muscle mass to age and, yes, there are hormonal changes that add to it. However, we must also look at how we might have become more sedentary after college (or even high school). We are not forced to be in Phys Ed classes, nor are we likely to be in a team sport after college. Maybe our work or family lives keep us away from exercise and a proper diet more than we’d like. So the loss of strength and muscle mass will seem greater to us than someone who has stayed physically active and nutritionally disciplined. It’s the proverbial snake eating its tail; one neglected habit fuels another and then all of a sudden everything is breaking down. Before deciding on investing in new contraptions, let’s go back to the basics and discuss why sustained strength training is beneficial.
What Happens When We Age?
Everyone loses muscle mass as we age but it’s most noticeable after 30 when we lose 3% - 5% of our muscle mass per decade. Our skeletal muscle’s natural ability to create protein diminishes as well, which affects how we build and maintain our muscle mass. Our bones become weaker and as a result we are more susceptible to joint pain, osteoporosis, and other concerns such as diabetes and heart disease. Building strength is crucial to sustain a longer, less painful life. It is never too late to start strength training and in addition to alleviating the issues mentioned above, your mental cognition will become sharper and improve your overall quality of life.
Where Do We Start?
Before stepping into a new muscle gaining routine, consult your physician first to ensure you are taking the right steps and precautions. They will add insight to what your body needs and how to approach it all.
- Ease into a new cardio routine. Start with a brief warm up rather than going all in.
- Use endurance exercises to gain muscle mass. These will focus on your “slow-twitch” muscles as opposed to your “fast-twitch” muscle fibers.
- Slow-twitch fibers are responsible for controlling posture and smaller movements that are more fatigue resistant. Think of marathon runners, slow-twitch fibers are responsible for their endurance whereas sprinters are using their fast-twitch muscles (which are larger and fatigue faster).
- Include weight training a few times a week to increase muscle mass, improve flexibility, help control blood sugar levels, improve back and core strength to alleviate stress on your spine. Your form must be correct or else you will do more damage than good. It is good to ask for advice or help while weight training.
- If weight lifting is not recommended by your physician or you don’t enjoy it, resistance training is a fantastic alternative AND it helps with your joint health. So try squats, various lunges, and push ups instead of lifting weights.
- Rest! Contrary to perception, muscles repair themselves and build up while they are resting! This typically takes 72 hours after exercising.
- Tap into all the areas of your body and change your routine to target different parts to avoid plateauing.
- Supplements and diet should be researched and consulted to ensure you are fueling your body with vital nutrients. We are not physicians and cannot recommend supplements, dietary choices, nor hormone therapy.
It’s also important to know when to stop and reassess your methods:
- If you are experiencing a cold, flu, or an infection.
- More tired than normal,
- Experiencing swelling or pain in muscle or joint,
- Getting chest pains or an irregular heartbeat,
- Shortness of breath
Knowledge is always half the battle! So consult your physician on how you can start or adjust your strength training routine. Training and eating sustainably is what leads to a long-term change in health benefits. Don’t tell yourself that age is a restriction and a reason to stop caring for yourself.