Tips for Maintaining Bone and Muscle Strength Throughout Your Life
WASHINGTON — As you age, you may find you have more aches and pains. You may struggle with something as simple as squatting down to pick something up. Humans naturally lose muscle, strength and bone density as they get older. While these changes are normal, you can implement exercise and nutrition habits to slow them down or even prevent them.
Here, we’ll explain two common age-related conditions and break down the types of exercise and food to include in your diet to help you stay stronger for longer.
Natural Aging Health Conditions
Losing bone mass, muscle and strength can increase your risk of falling and fractures.
Bone mass refers to your bone size and bone mineral density level. Your body continues making bone while you’re younger, but at around age 30, you reach peak bone mass and your body may stop making new bone.
Osteoporosis is a condition where you continue losing BMD, causing your bones to become weak and brittle and increasing your risk of fracture. It can affect people of all ages and genders, but postmenopausal women are most likely to develop it.
Aside from aging, tobacco and alcohol use may increase your risk of losing BMD and developing osteoporosis.
Sarcopenia is a condition in which you progressively lose muscle mass and strength. It affects people of all genders and ages, but primarily those over 60. Loss of muscle mass may start naturally in your 30s or 40s. Losing strength and muscle makes activities of daily life, like climbing stairs or walking, more challenging and can lead to injury.
Physical inactivity and a diet deficient in nutrients can increase your risk of sarcopenia.
While this may seem alarming, research shows that exercise can help in prevention. Exercise can slow down BMD and muscle loss for people who already have these conditions.
If you’re in your 20s, 30s or 40s, you can implement these exercise habits now to increase your BMD and muscle mass. It may help you avoid these conditions when you reach your 60s.
Weight-Bearing Cardio Exercise
The Mayo Clinic and multiple studies suggest weight-bearing cardio exercise to increase and preserve BMD. Weight-bearing cardio exercise refers to any type of aerobic activity where you are supporting your body weight, like walking, jogging, hiking, dancing or stair-climbing.
Research shows that non-weight-bearing cardio exercises like swimming, cycling or using the elliptical may not increase BMD as much, but they’re still great for cardiovascular health, balance and mobility.
Functional Resistance Training
It’s not all about cardio — research shows that strength and resistance training are also crucial for preventing or treating osteoporosis and sarcopenia. You can build muscle mass by lifting weights or doing bodyweight resistance exercises.
Any type of strength training is beneficial, but learning “functional” resistance training is particularly helpful for older adults. Functional training focuses on exercises that mimic everyday movements like squats, deadlifts (picking something up off the floor), lunges, pushes, pulls or simply getting up off the ground.
Strengthening these movement patterns can improve your movement in everyday life and may reduce your risk of injury.
Building your core muscles with dead bugs, an exercise that involves lying on your back, raising and lowering opposite arms and legs while keeping your abdominal muscles engaged, and bird dogs, in which you start on your hands and knees with your back in a neutral position and extend one leg and the opposite arm, then return to the starting position, can improve your posture, balance and coordination, further helping to prevent injury for older adults.
Your diet also affects your bones and muscles. Here are some macro and micronutrients to focus on.
Increase Your Protein
When you do resistance exercise, you need to eat enough protein for your body to build muscle. Getting enough protein may also improve your bone health.
Research suggests that older adults get 25-30 grams of protein at each meal to prevent or manage sarcopenia. Choose lean proteins like chicken breast, turkey breast, salmon, eggs or plant-based proteins like tofu, tempeh, legumes and quinoa.
The recommended dietary allowance for adults is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. However, ongoing research suggests that older adults may need more protein.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium and vitamin D are crucial to bone health. The RDA for calcium is 1,000 milligrams per day for adults up to age 50 and men aged 51-70. For women over 51 and men over 71, it increases to 1,200 milligrams per day. Dairy products, salmon, sardines, tofu, almonds, broccoli and kale are all great sources of calcium.
The RDA for vitamin D for adults up to 70 is 600 IU daily. For adults over 71, it increases to 800 IU. Vitamin D-rich foods include salmon, fatty fish, trout, tuna, mushrooms, eggs, fortified cereals and fortified milk.
Studies show that vitamin D can also help increase muscle strength.
It’s best to see a doctor to check your calcium and vitamin D levels and ask if a dietary supplement would help you reach your recommended intake goals.
Get Strong for Life
Nowadays, humans are living longer than ever. We’re lucky to age well, but it also brings challenges. Eat nutrient-rich foods and strengthen your bones and muscles through weight-bearing cardio and resistance training. These are evidence-backed methods to prevent or manage osteoporosis and sarcopenia.
No need to wait until you’re older to get started. Build up your bones and muscles while you’re younger to set yourself up for a long and strong life.
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