Stop Losing Muscle

~ By Laura Brieser-Smith, Registered dietitian, certified personal trainer ~

Muscle loss, also known as sarcopenia, could be happening to you and you might not know it.  At first the loss is not very noticeable, as it happens gradually.  However, when daily tasks become difficult, we are in trouble.  Losing muscle also impacts our lives in other ways, such as decreased metabolism leading to weight gain, weaker bones, and poor balance.

There are many factors that cause us to lose muscle.  First, we synthesize less new muscle tissue as we get older.  While the muscle fibers we already have continue to get bigger in size, we become less able to create new muscle tissue.  Second, too few of us do the right type of exercise (i.e. weight training) to keep muscles stimulated and strong.  While walking is good for cardiovascular health, it does little to prevent losing muscle mass.  Third, whether we retain our muscles or not depends a great deal on our genetics.  Some people are much better at building/retaining muscle than others.  Gender also plays a role.  While men and women both lose muscles with age, it has much more serious consequences for women who start out with less muscle and wind up weaker.  Fourth, we often eat less in general, and specifically less protein, with age.  This means that there are fewer of the raw materials needed to build muscle tissue.  Last, we lose motor nerve cells that send information to the muscles.  Without nerves to stimulate them, muscles wither away.  The body can compensate for this to some degree; however, some muscle loss is inevitable.

The good news is that there are ways to stop losing muscle.  Strengthening exercises are the number one way to make that happen.  With a regular routine of exercises you can reverse decades of muscle loss in a few months time.  And you are never too old to start!  When developing a strengthening routine, choose exercises that will work all of your major muscle groups (usually 8 to 10 different exercises).  Lifting weights that are too light will not help build stronger muscles, so choose a weight that is heavy enough that you can lift it only 8 to15 times before you feel like you need to rest.  You will see the best results by doing two to three sessions each week, making sure to give your muscles at least one day of rest between sessions.

To compliment your weight training efforts you should be sure to consume sufficient protein in your diet.  A good target level for daily protein grams is about half your weight (in pounds).  Protein is found in foods such as meat and fish; beans, tofu and veggies burgers; milk, yogurt and cheese; eggs; nuts and seeds; and whole grain products.

Laura Brieser-SmithLaura Brieser-Smith, RD, MPH, CHFS is the owner of Healthy Designs, LLC which provides nutrition counseling and personal training to clients in their homes or offices. She can be reached at 303-635-1131 or at

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