I’ve been a fitness buff, not an extreme one, but I have consistently done basic weight training, walking and just a bit of running for a few years. I’ve also loved being active and playing sports with my sons. But one day, at the ripe age of almost 41, I woke up with pain in my left wrist that would keep my left arm out of commission and wreak havoc with my spirits. This lasted for more than 8 months. At first, a hand surgeon told me that an MRI showed synovitis – that’s inflammation – which was likely the result of one too many push-ups and supporting all my body weight on my wrists.
Smart Exercise to Prevent Muscle Loss With Aging
After 7 long months that included 3 months of hand therapy, 2 cortisone shots, splinting, anti-inflammatory meds, 3 hand surgeons and lots of head scratching, a second MRI revealed a small ganglion cyst. I decided that since conservative treatment was not working, I would have the cyst surgically removed. I started therapy earlier to regain function. My next goal is to get my strength and biceps back so that I can grow old gracefully and feel as young on the outside as I do on the inside.
Because I know that, as we get older, our muscle mass naturally wants to diminish and our fat mass wants to increase. Because I have a longer way to go than most people to regain the strength I’d been building up for years, I was especially interested to learn how to reduce the likelihood of muscle loss. Fortunately, it is possible to preserve muscle and keep fat at bay according to Dr. Vonda Wright, an orthopedic surgeon and author of “Fitness After 40.” Here’s my recent interview with her. I hope after you read it you’ll be encouraged to take the steps she recommends.
Preventing a “mid-life muscle crisis”
Is it a given that as you age, you’ll gain fat and lose muscle? These aren’t wives’ tales. But does that mean we should throw in the towel and accept our fate?
“It’s true that after age 40 you naturally lose muscle mass – up to eight percent per decade,” says Dr. Wright. “The good news is that although muscles can deteriorate with time, studies show muscle atrophy is reversible at any age.”
Wright thinks of muscles as celebrities that deserve special treatment. “Muscles help our bodies move, our hearts pump blood and our organs work. The more they’re used, the better equipped they’ll be to support activity, keep your body strong and possibly reverse aging,” she says.
The benefits don’t stop there. “Exercise also strengthens bones and helps the body burn more calories.” Engaging in regular physical activity that includes aerobic training as well as muscle- and bone-strengthening exercise may also help lower the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and some cancers (including colon- and breast cancer).
So can we really sidestep a mid-life muscle crisis?
F.A.C.E. (flexibility, aerobics, carrying weight and equilibrium training)
According to Wright, this means exercising smarter than we did when we were kids with a focus on flexibility every day, aerobic exercise 3 to 5 times per week, carrying a load (doing functional resistance training 2 to 3 times per week) and daily equilibrium and balance training. She recommends to “start small by taking a brisk walk every day, or climbing stairs instead of using the elevator. These may sound trite, but simple, functional activities you do daily can dramatically rejuvenate your muscles,” says Wright. “Once these basics become habits, you can build from there.”
Raise the bar
For regular exercisers, Wright recommends mixing it up. “Your body gets used to what you’re doing, so it’s important to tweak your routine and challenge your muscles in different ways.” For example, if you usually walk, you can increase your pace or take a different path. Or you can try different modalities on a treadmill or, instead, hop on a bike or elliptical machine.
The Current Physical Activity Guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services (HHS) recommend that American adults aim for 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic activity – such as brisk walking where you’re sweating but can still carry on a conversation – or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity – such as jogging or running. Muscle strengthening exercise that works all the major muscle groups is also recommended at least twice a week. Wright recommends setting small, reasonable goals – for example, adding 5 minutes to a walk, or doing an additional set of bicep curls – until you meet your quota. Those who are chained to a desk for more than 40 hours a week may need even more exercise.
Feed your muscles
Wright recommends a balanced diet that’s consistent with the current Dietary Guidelines – one that’s loaded with protein-rich foods, including fish, skinless chicken, beef and legumes, high fiber whole grains, such as whole wheat pasta, cereal, crackers and brown rice, and colorful fiber-rich vegetables and fruits. This is a dietary pattern that provides fuel to support your brain and muscles. Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD, author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook, recommends that active people should aim for about 0.5 to 0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day (for a 150 pound person, that’s about 75 to 113 grams).
Plan for success
Wright sums it up well by saying that “it’s an urban myth that life goes downhill when you get older. My 40s have been the best years of my life mentally, physically and professionally. These can be the best years of your life too. The key is to stop freaking out and to plan for physical success just like we would for professional success.”
This article is based on an interview with Dr. Vonda Wright, MD. I recently had the pleasure of attending a lecture by her and I proudly endorse her book, “Fitness After 40,” which inspired and encouraged me to follow her advice. “Can You Prevent a Midlife Muscle Crisis” was originally posted on caloriecount.com
Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN is a nationally recognized Registered Dietitian and the founder and president of the NYC-based Zied Health Communications, LLC. She is the author of “Nutrition At Your Fingertips,” co-author of “Feed Your Family Right” and “So What Can I Eat.” Elisa is a regular contributor to msnbc.com and galtime.com, and is on the Advisory Board of Parents Magazine and parents.com. She has appeared on Good Morning America, The Early Show, and The Today Show, and is frequently quoted in newspapers and magazines. For more information, go to www.elisazied.com
The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.