The Snowball Effect of Aging on Metabolism, and What To Do About It


If you’re a client of mine you’ve probably heard me talk about this topic before, but it’s a process I see so many people go through.

An unfortunate byproduct of aging is muscle loss. Another unfortunate reality is that your metabolism drops. Is there a connection? Absolutely. Muscle is highly metabolically active, more so than fat tissue. If you lose it, your metabolic rate suffers.

If someone is a passive, sedentary spectator to the aging process, here’s what typically happens: First, you start gradually losing muscle tissue, lowering your metabolic rate. Eating habits don’t change, and that combined with a sedentary lifestyle leads to accumulation of body fat. As body fat stores increase, you have less energy and it’s harder to be active. Moving less means using your muscles less, which leads to acceleration of the muscle loss process. This loop can continue until someone realizes, maybe even by age 45 or 50, that mobility is becoming a real struggle and their body composition has drastically changed. Metabolic syndrome, which includes a number of chronic conditions, becomes a real possibility at this stage.

At that point, it’s extremely difficult to push the proverbial snowball back to the top of the hill. It certainly can be done, but it requires patience and commitment (and likely a solid support system).

What can you do to halt this process? A quality diet is an irreplaceable component of a healthy lifestyle, but taking measures to ensure you keep your muscle tissue and your strength is also essential to combat chronic disease and live a longer life.

Don’t believe me? There’s research! A study published in June of 2014 in The American Journal of Medicine titled Muscle Mass Index as a Predictor of Longevity in Older Adults found that muscle mass index – which was defined as total muscle mass divided by height – was a far greater predictor of longevity in the subjects than simply using BMI. So even if the subjects were in the “overweight” or “obese” categories, high proportion of muscle mass was predictive of a longer, healthier life. The sample included 3,659 participants aged 55 or older.

Several studies have also pointed to grip strength as an indicator for longevity and reduced risk of chronic disease. Grip strength, essentially acting as a representation of one’s overall strength, has been found to be a stronger predictor of death and cardiovascular disease than blood pressure.

How do you make sure you keep (or even build) muscle as you age? There are plenty of options. Lifting weights is maybe the most obvious, but body weight exercises, yoga, martial arts activities, or even staying active in strenuous household activities or yard work can make a big difference.

Move your body and use your muscles. Stopping the snowball at the top of the hill is much easier than at the bottom.


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