How to protect muscles as we age
Welcome readers! This month we are going to talk to you about an important subject we all need to think about as we get older.
The health of our muscles is important as we move through life into our later years. The body is made up of a host of different systems: the nervous, vascular and musculoskeletal systems are all examples. The skeleton is made up of bones that fit together forming joints. Muscles attach to bones and provide movement at the joints, all under supervision of the vascular (i.e. the ‘blood’ system) and immune-nervous system (i.e. muscles, the brain, spinal cord and nerves). It’s a little bit more complicated than that, but you get the gist.
Our bodies rely on movement for countless different internal processes to occur, and for us to maintain function and be able to get around and stay alive. Movement keeps our bones strong, our digestion and toilet habits regular, and provides the force required for fluids to move around the body, just to name a few examples. If you look at an average person’s lifespan, we grow and get bigger and stronger until the age of 30 (give or take). After this, if we don’t work towards keeping it all, we start to lose muscle mass, bone strength and joint health, which forces our body to decline as we reach the elder years. Naturally, we start to move less and our injuries, stiffness and pain increase… Joyous thoughts I know, sorry!
But… It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. If we spend time on our bodies throughout life, exercising, feeding it the right stuff and living a stress-less approach each day, it is very possible to move into our later years with a good body that will keep us moving well. If we take control of our bodies early on and not abuse them, it gives us the best opportunity to have a problem-free life down the line. Goodbye expensive medical bills. How nice would it be to not have to rely on our private health insurance or Medicare services?! Food for thought.
Let’s recap… Muscles are movers, and we need movement to be healthy and alive. So naturally, we need to look after our muscles. “What can we do?" I hear you ask. The answer is, LOTS!
• Exercise regularly: In order for our muscles to stay strong, we need to use them. The saying goes ‘if you don’t use them, you lose them’. And this is very true. Look at someone who has broken their leg and are immobilised in a cast for a six-week period. Once the cast comes off, look at the size of their muscles on that leg compared to the non-injured side. Through lack of use, the muscles have got smaller and weaker (i.e. they have ‘atrophied’). Losing muscle due to aging is a slightly different process (known as ‘sarcopenia’), but the same rules apply… If you want to increase the size and strength of your muscles, you need to be doing some regular and progressive resistance training. Whether you are using your own bodyweight, resistance bands or free weights, to be progressive means to increase gradually. In this context, you can gradually increase weight or the number of repetitions or sets in order to gain strength and continue to do so. Remember that in order for muscles to get stronger, they also need rest and recuperation, so be sure to include rest days in your plan.
• Look at your diet: So you’ve ticked off regular exercise and now you need to tick off a healthy diet to back up all the good work you do getting your pump on. A muscles favourite food is protein. When we eat protein, our body breaks it down into smaller pieces (called ‘amino acids’) which our body uses to build muscle tissue. It is a good idea to give your body a protein boost following your resistance exercise routine, but if you aim to take on protein with each meal in some form, then you should be giving the muscles the food they need. You have many options… We recommend getting a good mix of fish, poultry, yoghurt, milk, cheese and eggs to ensure you hit the protein goal each day. Beans, peas, nuts and seeds are also a great source of protein.
• Drink lots of water: A piece of advice we will keep coming back to time after time. It is simply a must for everyone, every single day. Our bodies are predominantly water and pretty much every process carried out inside the body needs it in order to function. The muscles are no different. Muscle tissue is full of blood. It relies on the blood to feed it all the nutrients it needs to stay healthy and to continue strengthening. Blood is largely made up of water (shocking I know!), so stay hydrated for good blood. Good blood equals a good transport system for food to get to the muscles.
This is our advice to you. We know it is tough trying to figure all this out on your own, but the good news is, you are not alone… Our team here at Back in Business Physiotherapy are here to answer any queries you may have about your body and how to age as gracefully as possible. Although the body is a very complex machine, it’s not rocket science when it comes to looking after it. Just be kind to it every day and let us worry about the scientific stuff. This is what we spent years studying for. For more detailed information on improving your muscle health for the future, including exercise and dietary advice, please call us on +61299226806 to make an appointment.
P.s. Please remember to drink water every day (this won’t be the last time you read this!).
Further Reading :
- Sarcopenia and aging (Rome Presentation)
- Exercise, physiotherapy, deterministic chaos and the immune system
Uploaded :4 February 2020