I’ve never been a muscular person, and this never bothered me until my passion for healthy aging and longevity began. Through research, I learned that not only does our bone density decrease with age, but our muscle mass does as well. This explains why many people struggle with balance and lifting heavy items more as they age.
Throughout the aging process our body composition changes. When we’re born, our bodies have a higher percentage of fat compared to muscle to help with the growing process. As children grow into adulthood their body fat to muscle ratio shifts; this is why adults no longer have the body shape of babies. But once we enter adulthood and are no longer growing taller, our bodies adjust to our lifestyle. Muscle takes more calories to maintain than fat tissue. If we’re not utilizing our muscles, our bodies will break down excess tissue to be more efficient with nutrient resources. Between ages 30 and 50 our muscle mass can begin to decline if we’re not careful.
Protein is the building block of muscle and other tissues in our bodies. The average adult needs .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For an average adult weighing 150 pounds this is about 55 grams of protein needed per day. 55 grams of protein equates to about six ounces of chicken breast. To build muscle, protein needs increase to 1-2 grams per kilogram of body weight depending on individual goals. For most of the American population, protein is not a nutrient of concern. Protein may be of concern for vegans and vegetarians, but even people choosing to eliminate meat from their diet are still able to meet their protein needs and maintain their muscle mass with adequate planning.
However, new research has found that once we reach age 65, our protein needs increase to 1-1.2 grams per kilogram to maintain our muscle mass. For the average 150 pound person, this is approximately 70-80 grams or protein per day. This equates to about nine ounces of chicken breast.
Muscle loss doesn’t have to be inevitable for everyone. Regular resistance training for both men and women builds muscle and prevents muscle loss. Resistance training exercises include push-ups, lunges, planks, wall sits, etc. Building and maintaining muscle is like maintaining your bone health because they both benefit from weight training and resistance
Having an active lifestyle and consuming adequate protein helps us maintain muscle throughout the aging process. By being mindful about the changes in our body composition, we can combat the common loss of strength that occurs with aging. Muscle strength in research is sometimes measured as hand grip strength using a hand dynamometer. Research has shown that the weaker someone’s hand grip strength is, or the weaker their muscles are, the more likely they are to develop heart disease, type two diabetes, cancer, and other chronic conditions. Having a healthy muscle mass improves longevity by preventing chronic diseases and dangerous falls. Muscles protect us and keep us moving, making them vital to maintain.