It’s no secret. Our bodies change over time but the good news is most of the decline in our musculoskeletal system is more from lack of use than from simple aging.
And even better news is you can do something to improve your health because long-term regular exercise may slow muscle mass loss and prevent age-associated increases in body fat. As muscles age, they begin to shrink and lose mass. This is a natural process but a sedentary lifestyle can accelerate it. According to research on healthy living by Western Washington University, after age 50 we can lose muscle mass at a rate of 1-2 percent per year. And unfortunately, muscle is also replaced by fat.
So, ‘move it or lose it’ is clearly the message here,” said Laura Stoffel, Marshfield Clinic fitness instructor, who is also a licensed practical nurse and certified personal trainer. “The good news is that it is never too late to start and our bodies respond rather quickly.”
One easy way to build strength and muscle, which is especially important in the legs, is to do chair squats:
- Use your kitchen chair (no wheels).
- Sit near the edge of your seat.
- Lean forward so that you can see your toes.
- Keep your arms in front of you and do not use your arms to help you up.
- Press through your feet to stand.
- Repeat 8-10 times and repeat 2-4 times per day. Rest between each set.
- Make it more difficult by rising slowly and returning to the chair slowly or by holding your arms over your head or behind your back.
As we age, the number and size of muscle fibers also decrease, which means it takes muscles longer to respond in our 50s than they did in our 20s.
To help reaction time, mix up your exercises and movement patterns. For example, step forward, step to the side and step back then switch legs. Variations can include adding diagonal steps, taking larger steps, holding your arms overhead or holding your arms behind you. If you usually walk, try incorporating some bike riding or swimming into your exercise routine.
And even if you can’t do these recommended exercises, look for ways you can move it so you don’t lose it over time.
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