Home Health & Wellness Occupational Therapist Reveals Top 5 Tips to Maintaining Muscle as We Age

Occupational Therapist Reveals Top 5 Tips to Maintaining Muscle as We Age

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Living a long life is only worthwhile if you can still do all the things you love, whether caring for loved ones or going on walks with friends, and to achieve this, we need to maximise our physical health; the key to this is maintaining our muscle strength. While we often underestimate how often our muscles are used, 3.5K Brits are Googling how to build their muscles every month. Muscle mass typically declines by 3–8% per decade after the age of 30 and this rate of decline escalates further after 60.

Maintaining muscle mass is crucial for everyday tasks like walking, climbing stairs, and lifting objects. Strong muscles also help prevent falls and fractures, common risks as we age. To achieve this, regular strength training and sufficient protein intake are essential practices for ageing individuals to ensure muscle health and overall well-being. 

Those providing care for a loved one – whether a parent, partner, or friend – are particularly likely to benefit from maintaining muscle mass and strength in later life. As a carer, it’s essential that you can physically support the person you’re caring for; more can be found on the physical impact of caregiving in Stannah’s guide to caring and caregiver burnout. 

So, what’s the best way to maintain muscle mass and strength, as well as mobility, as we age? Stairlift and home lift company Stannah’s occupational therapist, Kate Sheehan, explains that, while we are all unique, exercising in short, vigorous bursts could hold the key. 

Sheehan also spotlights other top tips for staying active and maintaining muscle mass, drawing on insights and extensive research from a rich career in occupational therapy. 

Exercise in short, vigorous bursts 

Studies have shown that little often takes the win. Doing smaller, more manageable sessions of physical activity is as good, if not better, than longer bouts of exercise. Including smaller bouts of activity and fitting physical activity in our everyday lives is more realistic, achievable, and enjoyable, especially for those of us who don’t typically enjoy exercise. By making exercise habitual and embedding it into our daily routine, we are more likely to keep doing it.   

Focus on muscle-strengthening exercise 

As we age, we experience a decrease in muscle mass, size, and strength, as our muscles produce less force. A fitness survey conducted by Don McCauley showed that 55% of people over 65 did not have enough quad and glute strength to rise from an armchair unaided. With our increased sedentary lifestyles and the belief that we will experience limited strength and mobility as we age, these numbers make sense. However, it is never too late to build muscle mass and strength.  

By doing twice-weekly muscle strengthening exercises, we can continue to live independently as we get older, as well as sustain blood glucose levels; improve balance and maintain body weight as building muscles uses energy and improves metabolism; improve our mental fitness; and fight off cancer (strength training twice weekly can reduce cancer overall by almost a third, 31%). 

This does not need to be lifting weights in the gym but could include using our body weight or daily objects, such as bicep curls using shopping bags or tinned foods, doing calf raises whilst waiting for the kettle to boil, toe raises while talking on the phone, or side leg raises while working at a standing desk, which is a great way to work our side hip muscles that may help prevent falls. 

Keep moving; walking could save your life 

Everyone seems to think that running is better than walking when it comes to exercise benefits, but research is now showing that brisk walking can reach moderate to high intensity exercise, which gets the heart rate up, encourages blood circulation and burns energy. Running can be impactful on the joints so is not for everyone, especially as we get older. This is good not only for our physical but also for our mental health, as walking with friends reduces the amount of time we spend alone and indoors.  

Find something you love doing 

If we know that exercise is good for us, then why do we avoid it? We have come to think of exercise as work or a punishment. This often leads to many of us to giving up exercising all together. The problem is that many of us who struggle with exercising consistently, have not found a form of exercise that we enjoy, so we put it off. Try a variety of different exercises and stick with the activity that you enjoy most. 

Buddy up with a friend to exercise  

Finding someone that we can exercise with will help hold us to our well-made plans, as we are less likely to make excuses with a friend or loved one than we are with ourselves. So, find someone who will hold you accountable. This will also help to improve your wellbeing through social connection.  

Higher physical activity levels boost muscle strength, lower the risk of major diseases, enhance mood, decrease fall risk, reduce depression, and foster social connections. This encourages continued activity into old age and facilitates caregiving when needed. Additionally, muscle strength helps caregivers to distribute the workload evenly across their bodies, reducing the risk of injuries and chronic pain. 

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