How To Build Muscle Mass After 50

Weightlifting can help you build muscle mass after age 50. (Image: Halfpoint/iStock/GettyImages)

Most older adults will likely experience age-related muscle loss. Doctors call this medical condition sarcopenia, and it places you at risk for chronic illness. Fortunately, you can protect yourself from its dire consequences with effective and safe remedies. These natural treatments will help you build muscle mass and fight sarcopenia.

Build Muscle Mass

You accumulate muscle mass through amino acid metabolism. But this process isn't straightforward. Several factors play a role, including hormone levels, genetics and diet.

The most important factor is your net protein balance. You have to make more muscle proteins than you break down.

Building muscle after 50 is challenging, and muscle degrades faster as you age. These changes lead to a phenomenon called anabolic resistance. Overcoming anabolic resistance takes more effort and a better diet, but it's possible to gain muscle at any age.

Learn About Sarcopenia

Sarcopenia may affect up to 29 percent of community-dwelling people, according to a 2014 report in Age and Ageing. Not surprisingly, these numbers increase in hospital-dwelling people and individuals who need long-term care.

Decreases in muscle mass begin at age 40 in most people, and the steady decline follows a different pattern in women and men. Gender also affects the sarcopenia's prevalence, with women having a 20 percent greater chance of developing this medical condition.

Managing sarcopenia costs the health care system billions of dollars. A 2017 paper in Nutrition and Dietetics showed that entering the hospital with a diagnosis of sarcopenia greatly increases the cost of your stay. It also increases your risk of treatment complications.

Recognize the Symptoms

Sarcopenia has more symptoms than just muscle wasting. The age-related loss of muscle fiber also causes a decrease in muscle endurance, strength and power. Regaining muscle tone after 50 becomes difficult under such conditions, and the symptoms extend beyond your muscles.

For example, people with sarcopenia often have cognitive impairment. They are also at risk for mental decline. And sarcopenia may be associated with signs of depression and dementia.

Scientists have also identified many biomarkers for sarcopenia, including chemicals involved in development, growth and immunity. No single chemical causes sarcopenia. Instead, there's a dramatic shift from the promotion of muscle growth to the inhibition of muscle growth. The reasons for this change remain unknown, but you can improve your biomarkers.

Understand the Consequences

Older adults often have several concurrent diagnoses, including sarcopenia. They also have a greater risk of physical disability, hospitalization and even mortality. Osteoporosis, diabetes and obesity are commonly associated with sarcopenia as well.

These consequences affect not only the patient but also the society. Managing this condition takes 1.5 percent of all U.S. health care resources. Concurrent diagnoses like diabetes would greatly increase the health care burden caused by sarcopenia.

Explore Your Treatment Options

Sarcopenia is easier to manage than other conditions affecting the eldery. That's because many methods exist to fight age-related muscle wasting. Some methods, such as the use of anabolic steroids, have dangerous side effects. Others, such as creatine supplements, have unexpected consequences. Even natural methods like playing sports can lead to serious injuries. Muscle wasting may also be caused by deadly diseases.

So, speak with a doctor before trying to build muscle. They can help you plot a safe course of action. They might also find an underlying cause, irrespective of your age. Early diagnosis will increase the effectiveness of any treatment.

Use Elastic Bands

Doing resistance exercises might give obese children the greatest likelihood of success, according to a 2016 paper in Psychology and Health. Resistance training helps kids overcome many barriers to exercise, and it typically gives them joy. A 2019 report in Experimental Gerontology tested whether a similar, positive effect would happen in older women and men.

Researchers randomly assigned older adults to either a treatment or a placebo. Participants in the treatment group did three one-hour sessions of elastic-band work each week for three months. Compared to baseline, the resistance exercise group experienced a greater increase in lean body mass by the end of the study. Their functional skills, such as getting in and out of a chair, improved too.

Do Endurance Exercises

High intensity interval training, or HIIT, has become incredibly popular. People often use HIIT to lose weight, but endurance exercises can cause increases in muscle mass as well. A 2017 article in Cell Metabolism looked at the impact of HIIT on older adults.

Scientists tested participants during two three-month periods. During one phase, the subjects did HIIT. During the other phase, they followed their normal, relatively inactive routine. In the HIIT phase, subjects cycled three days a week and walked two days a week. The cycling sessions lasted for about 15 minutes and the walking sessions for 45 minutes.

Researchers compared the results obtained during HIIT to those obtained during inactivity. Endurance training increased muscle mass, but it didn't affect muscle strength. The subjects didn't report injuries, but a greater injury risk has been found in some HIIT protocols. Participating in neuromuscular training and strengthening programs before starting HIIT can lower your risk.

Play Recreational Games

Playing small-sided sports and recreational games offers many health benefits. A 2017 report published in Applied Economics showed that these benefits include health satisfaction, better sleep and weight loss. The authors of a study published in the journal PLoS One in 2017 wanted to see if small-sided sports also increase muscle mass.

Older women and men participated in small-sided games twice a week for three months. They also ingested either a low-protein or high-protein drink. A control group kept their normal routine.

Compared to making no change, playing the games and ingesting a high-protein drink caused a significant increase in thigh muscle mass. This combination also enhanced athletic performance and decreased fat mass.

Get More Protein

Many athletes take protein supplements to build muscle and strength. These supplements, if used in the right amount, can make bodybuilding over 50 easier. Manufacturers now make protein powder available in many tasty flavors.

A 2015 article published in the Journals of Gerontology showed that older adults need larger amounts of protein at each meal to get this anabolic effect. With these data in mind, a 2015 report in the Journal of Nutrition tested the impact of excess protein intake on lean tissue mass in older women and men.

The treatment group consumed extra protein twice a day at meals for six months. The control group consumed a placebo during this time. Compared to the control group, the treatment group had greater lean tissue mass by the end of the study.

Take HMB Capsules

Trainers often recommend beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyric acid (HMB) to bodybuilders. This metabolite of the amino acid leucine prevents muscle breakdown and promotes muscle growth. These qualities make it a possible candidate for fighting sarcopenia. The authors of a 2013 paper in Clinical Nutrition evaluated this possibility in older women and men during extended bed rest.

Subjects took HMB capsules or a placebo each day for two weeks. The bed rest started at day number five and lasted until day 15. Compared to the placebo group, the treatment group maintained their muscle mass during bed rest. This is a surprising result as five days of immobilization cause muscle loss in healthy, younger adults.

Increase Your Vitamin D Intake

The exact mechanisms triggering sarcopenia remain unknown, but age-related vitamin deficiencies may play a role. Vitamin D deficiency, for example, affects people of all ages. However, older adults are particularly vulnerable to its long-term consequences, such as premature death. A 2013 article in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism looked at the impact of reversing this deficiency.

The researchers first identified older women with low vitamin D and limited mobility. These subjects were then put into either treatment or control groups. The treatment group received 4,000 international units of vitamin D daily for four months. At the end of the study, it showed a 10.6 percent increase in muscle fiber size, while the control group showed a 7.4 percent decrease in muscle fiber size.

Try Electrical Myostimulation

Electrical myostimulation has become an increasingly popular way to fight muscle atrophy. Doctors typically use electrical stimulation in younger, healthy people who need rehabilitation. The authors of a 2013 paper in Clinical Interventions in Aging wanted to test its effectiveness in older adults.

Researchers tested older women unwilling or unable to exercise. Participants received 18 minutes of whole-body stimulation three times every two weeks for a year. Compared to a placebo, this treatment increased lean body mass and decreased fat mass. It also led to muscle strength gains.

Consider Vibration Therapy

Vibration therapy offers a newer way of stimulating muscle without exercise. Both electrical myostimulation and vibration therapy have proven effective in helping patients with spinal cord injuries.

Combining them causes stronger effects, so they seem to work through different mechanisms. This finding also suggests that vibration therapy might help in cases where electrical myostimulation fails. A 2013 report in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation looked at the impact of vibration therapy in older men.

Participants performed simple leg exercises for 40 minutes while standing on a vibrating platform. They did these exercises three times a week for a year. Compared to controls, subjects given vibration therapy showed increases in thigh muscle mass and strength. They returned to their normal routine after this intervention. A follow-up test a year later showed that the benefits of vibration had disappeared.

Combine Different Treatments

Nutritional supplements and resistance exercises seem to work through different mechanisms, so combining treatments should produce stronger effects. A 2015 paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition tested this hypothesis in older women and men suffering from obesity.

Participants increased their physical activity and decreased their caloric intake during a weight loss protocol lasting three months. Researchers assigned some of these subjects to a treatment group and others to a control group. The treatment group received a daily supplement containing whey protein, vitamin D and leucine. The control group received a placebo.

All subjects lost body weight and fat. Compared to the placebo, the treatment group maintained their muscle mass during the challenging protocol, suggesting the possibility that older adults can lose weight and avoid sarcopenia.

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