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Updated 09 November 2015

Is it ever too late to build muscles?

Did you know that the best medicine for weakness and muscle loss is exercise? With the help of regular exercise, you can improve your strength, balance and independence – even in your senior years!

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As you grow older, your body becomes more susceptible to disease, your energy levels decrease and your muscles start to lose their strength and flexibility, leading to a loss of balance and coordination and an increased risk of falls and injuries.

You can delay muscle loss

The rate at which your muscle mass declines with age may surprise you: it’s estimated that muscle mass declines by 22% for inactive women and 23% for inactive men between the ages of 30 and 70. After the age of 70, this muscle loss accelerates to 15% per decade.

These statistics are rather frightening. The good news, however, is that you can delay muscle loss and significantly improve your muscular tone and strength with regular exercise, no matter your age or fitness level. Research has shown that strength training and other exercises for seniors done regularly not only builds up bone and muscle but also counteracts the weakness and frailty that usually comes with ageing.

For example, a study by the American Heart Association has found that a four-week exercise programme significantly improved muscle endurance and physical capacity among heart failure patients with an average age of 76.

“As we age, it becomes harder to build and maintain muscle mass and strength, but it’s never too late to start a balanced resistance training and cardiovascular-exercise regime,” says Claudia Gravenorst, registered biokineticist at the Sport Science Institute of South Africa. “Exercising can help to increase overall strength, vitality and longevity.”

Benefits of exercise

The benefits of exercise are numerous:

- It helps to build strength and maintain bone density

- Exercise improves balance, coordination and mobility, and reduces your risk of falling

- It helps you maintain independence in performing daily activities

- It strengthens your heart and improves your lung function

- It helps you sleep better

- It wards off depression

- It increases blood flow to the brain to keep your mind sharp and possibly reduce your risk of stroke

According to Gravenorst, resistance training remains the most effective intervention for increasing muscle mass and strength. “Aqua exercises are preferable as they’re low impact and you can use the resistance of the water to load the muscles and improve your strength.”

Read: Pool exercise may build strength

Water exercise is also particularly helpful for people who suffer from arthritis or are recovering from joint replacement surgery, as the buoyancy of the water takes the weight off painful joints.

“Stretching and body weight exercise-based classes such as Pilates and Gyrokinesis are also very effective in promoting flexibility, stability and balance,” Gravenorst continues.

Pilates and Gyrokinesis are gentle exercise systems that focus on stretching and strengthening the whole body to improve balance, muscle strength, flexibility and posture.

Strength and balance

“Developing and maintaining leg strength and balance should be one of the primary goals in strength training programmes because of their importance in reducing falls, maintaining independence and helping older adults enjoy a higher quality of life," Gravenorst continues.

She advises a training regime that includes a mixture of stretching, light cardiovascular exercises and resistance training at least three times per week.

Strengthening exercises are both safe and effective for men and women of all ages, including those who are not in perfect health. Combining resistance training with regular aerobic exercise (such as walking, climbing stairs, swimming or gardening) and a healthy, balanced diet (with adequate protein) can also have a profound impact on your mental and emotional health. Be sure to consult your doctor before starting any new exercise routine. Be patient with yourself and ease into your new programme slowly with small, achievable goals. Soon you’ll start to enjoy the benefits of a stronger, healthier and more vibrant you!

Read more:

Build muscle: the skinny on how to bulk up

Build muscle the logical way

Am I eating too little protein?

Sources:

CDC; A-train; SSISA; ShareCare; Love to Know; NASM; MedicinePlus; My Joint Pain, American Heart Association


 
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