Aging is associated with a decline in: 1) food and water intake, 2) lean body mass, and 3) physical activity and the ability to perform even normal activities of daily life. Are these declines simply the result of the aging process or are they the result of a more sedentary life associated with aging? In our previous blog post we discussed how good posture (Tip #1) is important for vitality in advancing years. In this article, we discuss Look and Feel Younger Longer Tip #2: Lean Body Mass – how to get it and why we would want to.
“Studies in elderly people who have been active all their life such as the Lapps* in Finland and Sweden show no decline in functions until the date they sell their reindeer and sit down, whereafter they quickly decline to the level of other people of the same age.” —Mikael Fogelholm in Physical Activity: A Part of Healthy Eating? Report from a Nordic Seminar
The human body is made up of fat, lean tissue (muscles and organs), bones, and water. After age 30 our bodies slowly begin the process of atrophy – the loss of lean tissue – where our muscles, liver, kidney, and other organs may lose some of their cells. We lose lean tissue and take on body fat. In fact, older people tend to have one-third more fat than they had when they were young.
Men generally tend to gain weight until about age 55 and then begin the process of weight loss later in life caused by a drop in the male sex hormone testosterone.
[The information in this article should not be viewed as medical advice as we are not medical professionals. We are shareing information and recommendations from and based on scientific publications and studies that are enumerated in the article’s endnotes. As always, when beginning any new program dedicated to health and which is new for you, first consult your physician.]
Women generally tend to gain weight until age 65 and then begin to lose weight. A great deal of this excess weight localizes in the girth around the internal organs and, unfortunately, this is not all muscle. Hormonal and lifestyle changes are often the cause of weight gain but not always.
Weight loss later in life, especially in non-active seniors, occurs partly because fat replaces lean muscle tissue and fat weighs less than muscle.
Without a healthy proportion of muscle in the legs combined with a tendency to stiffer joints the ability to move with ease becomes more of a challenge compromising our balance and making the possibility of falls more likely.
Our lifestyle choices affect how rapidly the aging process progresses and can even affect atrophy in very advanced age. Physical training in older people has proven very positive for increasing lean body mass and work capacity in older people including the very elderly. Weight resistance training is key for improving work capacity for an independent lifestyle.
“A training intervention study in 85 year old women, including endurance training, showed that a 10 month training program was able to rejuvenate their work capacity by 10 years.” —Mikael Fogelholm in Physical Activity: A Part of Healthy Eating? Report from a Nordic Seminar
We cannot emphasize enough the degree to which our lifestyle choices affect how rapidly the aging process progresses.
We want to build lean muscle mass with weight resistance exercise in order to help reduce fat and weakness, but it is important to do so wisely by gradually building up a workout program with plenty of rest between workout sessions combined with a good nutrition plan to support our exercise regimen.
Here is where a prudent diet focusing on much much less animal fat and more physical exercise can be successful in getting lean and spry once again. Fats from vegetables and nuts and seeds are usually a better alternative and actually very beneficial for health. The fact is this: If you curb the offenders in your diet and add a consistent weight resistance and flexibility program, you will begin noticing results very quickly and lose that extra fat and weight incrementally over time. You will not need cool sculpting as advertised on television or liposuction from a plastic surgeon and your weight loss will be accomplished organically giving you an awesome mental boost in the process.
Losing the fluff and gaining muscle firmness and tone will create in you the kind of leanness that creates a strong body that is able to meet various physical challenges. Lower lean body mass means decreased strength, function and mobility. Lean body mass is a key determinant of survival in the context of critical illness where people typically lose 1% of muscle protein for each day of illness so it’s vitally important to build up a healthy store of lean body tissue.
“A smaller lean body mass may mean that many older people lack the physical reserve to withstand a prolonged period of critical illness, where more than 1% of body protein may be lost each day even when adequate energy and protein are being provided.” —Nancy Bernhardt et al in Nutrition for the Middle Aged and Elderly
Lean body mass is also important for:
• Respiratory muscle strength
• Improved circulation of blood to the organs which keeps them healthy and able to rid the body of toxins
• The ability to fight diabetes because muscles store glycogen for a readily available energy source when needed
• Improved bone strength and density; although exercise targets muscles it also strengthens the bones because bones, like muscle, react to the demands we place on them.
An interesting fact about calorie burning is that muscles burn two to three times as many calories as the same amount of fat, therefore the more muscle you have the more calories you’ll burn and the less calories will be available to be converted into fat. And if you consume less calories than you need to burn on a daily basis, your body will actually convert your fat cells into energy and burn them instead. When you build lean muscle mass you naturally decrease your body fat percentage.
In addition, once your muscle mass begins to increase while fat decreases, you’ll notice you have the greatest prize of all – more energy.
Acquiring and maintaining lean body mass, especially in older age, is vitally important for health and quality of life. We just can’t emphasize this enough. It gives us the ability to undertake daily activities with confidence and to mitigate and slow the aging process. Our body shape and weight changes naturally as we age but many people prove every day that we can alter that process with our lifestyle choices.
a member of an indigenous people of far northern Scandinavia, traditionally associated with the herding of reindeer
Tallis, Raymond, et al. Brocklehurst's Textbook of Geriatric Medicine. Churchill Livingstone, 2003.
Bernhardt, Nancy E., and Artur M. Kasko. Nutrition for the Middle Aged and Elderly. Nova Science, 2008.
Fogelholm, Mikael. Physical Activity: A Part of Healthy Eating?: Report from a Nordic Seminar, Lahti, Finland, February 2000. Nordic Council of Ministers, 2001.
TodayShow. “Can Exercise Detox Your Body? It's Not about the Sweat.” TODAY.com, 17 Dec. 2012, www.today.com/health/can-exercise-detox-your-body-its-not-about-sweat-1C7634616.