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Many people fear losing their cognitive ability as they age. Others focus on preserving bone and joint health. They’ll take steps to support their brain, bones, and joints, even though only a small percentage of people will ever experience problems in those areas. But most people ignore a looming issue that’s as serious, or more serious, and that affects everyone over age 50: age-related muscle loss. Alarmingly, if you don’t do something about losing muscle mass, it could ultimately lead to losing your physical independence and quality of life.
Age-related Muscle Loss and Quality of Life
Muscle loss is a part of the aging process that many doctors don’t discuss during your annual physical. Everyone’s body gradually becomes less efficient at replenishing muscle tissue. If you’re weakened by diminished muscle mass, you may find it harder to get out of a chair, walk the dog, or carry in groceries. You may feel more fatigued. Muscle loss also increases your risk of falls and fractures. I’m in the fourth quarter of life myself and working diligently to maintain my own muscle mass—and I’m a veteran of 72 triathlons and eight Ironman triathlons. Thankfully, muscle mass is super easy to measure, so you can forecast where you’re headed.
Related: Top 10 Supplements for Healthy Aging
How’s Your Grip?
Few people realize their grip strength doesn’t just measure the strength of their hands. It’s also an excellent indicator of their muscle health and is correlated with their longevity. For example, some studies have found that strong grip strength correlates with lower risk of cardiovascular disease. You can buy an inexpensive grip strength dynamometer for about $20 that will give you a baseline. This simple device is growing in importance as a diagnostic tool.
There are plenty of septuagenarians and even octogenarians who, like myself, are doing the right things to support their overall wellness. Here are the top 5 steps to follow:
- Be more mindful of your diet: A poor diet can contribute to the deterioration of your body, including your brain. When you eat a fast-food burger infused with antibiotics and hormones, washed down with a bottle of phosphoric acid and 12 teaspoons of sugar in your soda, it will create inflammation in your body. That is a common cause of many chronic diseases.
- Take HMB and vitamin D: Most people think that if they just consume enough protein, their muscles will be fine. But as we age, we can’t process protein as well as we once did. Adding HMB plus vitamin D3 to your daily protein intake will improve your muscle health. HMB is naturally produced by the body to help break down leucine, an amino acid involved in protein assimilation. Small amounts are found in certain foods too, including avocado, grapefruit, cauliflower, and catfish.
Nothing else helps to stop muscle loss and increase muscle mass as well as HMB (in supplement form), which is incredibly unique because it stimulates the body to make protein and also decreases protein breakdown. Look for supplements that contain both HMB and Vitamin D3 because results of a year-long study involving healthy adults over age 60 found this specific combination significantly improved muscle function in older adults, even without exercise. The study, supported by the National Institutes of Health, also found that HMB plus D3 helped people feel more energetic. So, you might be more inclined to exercise.
- Sit less, move more: Many people stop exercising because they get older; what they don’t realize is that they get older because they stop exercising. If you don’t use it, you do lose it to some extent. While exercise is important for everyone, it is especially crucial for older adults to improve cognitive function while increasing muscle mass and strength.
- Avoid environmental toxins: Smoking and drinking are two of the most common—and avoidable—environmental toxins. There’s also indoor air pollution, which may be a bigger factor because of the pandemic. It’s a good excuse to take a daily walk outdoors.
- Find your balance: In my book, Square One: A Simple Guide to a Balanced Life, I describe the importance of avoiding burnout and how to develop resilience. The four key areas to rebalancing your life are good health, a sense of spirituality, meaningful work, and strong relationships.
It’s a simple fact: everything that you do in your life involves your muscles in some way. And allowing them to gradually diminish over time jeopardizes your ability to live life on your own terms. So taking better care of your muscle health now may help you age better overall.