Over the past month or so, many of my clients have asked me how it feels to be 50 years old. I find it kinda funny to hear that question from so many who past that milestone long before I did. The Jersey Boy in me wanted to say, “Why do you ask? Has it been so long ago for you, you can’t remember?” No. I really didn’t want to ask that. But what did occur to me, was that although it’s pretty obvious, we are ALL getting older and, as a result, are experiencing some level of physical changes as well. However, what sometimes isn’t so obvious, is that along with our bodies getting older and changing, OUR workouts and diets need to change too. Yes, I said “OUR”. That is because I not only see the goals and workouts of my clients changing, I see them changing in my life also. So today’s installment of Body Designs is about Atrophy (Muscle Loss): Fit or Fat at Fifty and Above. And, if you are the ladder, how to become more of the former.
Who reading this, or writing it for that matter, hasn’t reached an age or been recovering from an illness or injury where we haven’t implemented some “physical therapy”, corrective exercise, balance training, stretching alternatives and/or dietary changes to combat the “new normal”?
The need for our body’s overall fitness program to shift focus boils down to the fact that, as we continue to age beyond the half-century mark, body fat can increase by up to as much as 30 percent. The major reason for this increase is a process called muscle atrophy. This catabolic (muscle-wasting) state stems from any one or number of the following:
- Being less physically active or not exercising hard enough to elicit enough tissue damage for muscle growth (muscle hypertrophy)
- Experiencing a reduction in the body’s natural anabolic hormones (testosterone, human growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor 1)
- Having an energy surplus (eating more calories than are burned)
All of this will eventually result in a loss of strength and balance; potentially causing minor injuries or setbacks; ultimately making it difficult to perform exercises and activities which were once relatively easy.
The loss of muscle also lowers the body’s metabolism (the rate at which calories are burned). But a word of caution, that loss won’t necessarily translate to a reduction on the scale. In fact, the very opposite may be true. Because as muscle mass decreases, especially in FIT people, fat levels can increase. Yup! You read that right! Those who are normally athletic and fit, are at the biggest risk for gaining large amounts of fat! And fast! Why? When people are in tip-top shape and their diets are finely tuned to the exact caloric total needed to maintain that high level of fitness, it is hard to pinpoint exactly when the natural decline will begin. And, I can say from experience, when you start down that hill, it may be steeper than you think. Then, by the time you realize that you truly are “over the hill and picking up speed,” you’ve gained some unwanted weight and need to put on the breaks.
Now, I am not saying that as you get older, you should eat and exercise less. But rather, I believe, after 50, one should gradually decrease their daily caloric consumption if it is above the body’s Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). Your personal TDEE is simply the sum of your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), the number of calories your body requires to support vital body functions while at rest over a 24 hour period, PLUS the amount of energy your body burns while active during those same 24 hours. And, at the same time, at least maintain your current amount of exercise. Or, if possible, increase the frequency of your exercise sessions, since increasing the intensity or duration would be counterproductive. Because with the lack of necessary anabolic hormones, the body can’t repair itself as quickly as it did so many times before.
That’s why I believe that the Industry (Fitness, my Media-centric friends) does a disservice to aging adults by convincing them that a fair amount of muscle can be built at the age of 50 and beyond. I am here to tell you, without the “supplementation” of steroids and other the hormones listed above, that ship has sailed.
So what are WE to do?
Well, my prescription to anyone who wants to stay fit in their later years is threefold.
- Eat three to four small (or smaller) meals a day (five to six hours apart) that are packed with nutrients. Avoid “foods” the have empty calories, are processed and contain refined sugar and cholesterol. Choose those that are high in protein, vitamin rich, low on the glycemic index, fiber-filled (soluble and insoluble) and low in fat (trans and saturated).
- Exercise appropriately and more often. Of course, lifts weights and do cardiovascular training. However, it is also smart to focus on activities and exercises that are functional. Meaning they mimic your daily movements or help you perform tasks and actions you enjoy or need to do without difficulty.
- Get a little more sleep. Even though after 50 the body’s hormones are in a state of decline, with quality sleep, you maximize your levels of testosterone, human growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor 1, as well as hormones (leptin and ghrelin) that help regulate appetite, giving you a fighting chance in the Battle of your Bulge.
This basic outline will result in a better quality of life for you and your loved ones.
By the way, whether you are a client or not, if you need help determining your TDEE, and think you might be suffering from Atrophy (Muscle Loss): Fit or Fat at Fifty and Above, please feel free to contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Body Designs West is LA’s Personal Training Studio that offers fitness programs tailored to your goals and abilities. Tracy and I are so committed to help you achieve success, we offer this blog in order to educate, encourage and entertain you on your fitness journey. We hope you enjoyed it!
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