Muscle mass needs attention as you age
Q: How can I avoid putting on excess weight as I get older? Regards, Merrilyn
A: Most people will tell you that you have to lose weight to be healthy, but I believe the opposite is true; you have to be healthy to lose weight (or maintain the weight that is right for you).
This means taking care of yourself – nourishing your body with nutritious whole foods and avoiding processed foods, getting honest with yourself about how much alcohol and caffeine you drink, moving your body regularly, and managing your perception of pressure and urgency (stress).
After the age of 30 we begin to lose muscle mass as we age, unless we do something to maintain (or preferably build) it.
Our ratio of muscle to fat mass greatly impacts our metabolic rate. If you have a higher proportion of muscle mass, your body uses more energy (calories) simply to sustain these muscles – and this can ultimately lead to less body fat being stored.
So embrace some kind of resistance training to maintain or build your muscle mass. Not only can it help you maintain a weight that is healthy for you, but it helps to maintain the body’s functionality and protecting our joints, ligaments and bones.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go to the gym. Pilates is a great form of resistance training and yoga uses your own body weight as resistance.
Gardening, walking, carrying groceries or children, climbing stairs and farm work all contribute to muscle building.
Don’t avoid movement – look for more opportunities to move throughout your day.
Q: Would it be OK to do highintensity exercise three times a week as long as we undertake other restorative actions (like meditation, breathing exercises, relaxation time) to bring balance? Kindest, Sarah
A: The types of movement that are beneficial for a person can be very individualised so it’s difficult for me to provide a yes or no answer.
It can depend on what the rest of your day looks like – let’s say you sleep eight hours a night, you meditate for 20 minutes in the morning and then you do your high-intensity exercise for 40 minutes. What do the other 15 hours of your day look like? If you spend most of your day stressed or in a rush, the intense exercise will just be an extra 40 minutes that you are in what I like to call the ‘‘red zone’’ (sympathetic nervous system dominance).
If this is the case for you, then I would encourage focusing on gentler movement such as yoga, tai chi or walking. If this doesn’t ring true for you, and you feel energised and uplifted at the end of your high-intensity exercise and you love doing it, that’s great – keep going with it. Interval training is a better choice for maintaining muscle mass and using body fat than a straight out high-intensity workout.
To help guide movement habits, I encourage people to think about what they want from it – you want to have a functional body that allows you to move through your day with ease, you want to have the strength to carry your groceries and your children (or grandchildren), you want to have the flexibility to bend down and tie your shoelaces, and you want to feel uplifted, not depleted.
❚ Dr Libby is a nutritional biochemist, best-selling author and speaker. The advice contained in this column is not intended to be a substitute for direct, personalised advice from a health professional. Join Dr Libby in Christchurch for one weekend to change your life: November 25 and 26. More info at drlibby.com
Do some resistance training as you age to maintain or build muscle mass.