One of the most important things to recognize and realize, is that in older age we will inevitably see a decline in muscle mass, strength and power. Once you hit 70, there is a 2% decline in muscle mass per year in active adults from age 70-79. At the same time, the functional ability of the muscle decreases 3x, relative to the size of the muscle itself. Which means that the quality of muscle tissue deteriorates relative to its size.
With that said, everything that I’ve read has told me the obvious – the more you use it, the longer you slow the decline and deterioration. And to go along with that, power exercises are as important as anything.
To understand that, you need to slow down and understand muscle fiber types real quick. Your body has a few of different types of muscle fibers – Type 1 and type 2a and type 2b.
-Type 1 muscle is very useful for longer exercise bouts, like running, biking and swimming over longer duration (2 minutes to 1+hour).
-Type 2a muscle fibers are responsible for higher power, higher strength exercises but also with a more extended component of time. Think the duration of a 10 shot rally in racquetball or tennis. (activities that take 20 seconds – 2 minutes)
-Type 2b muscle fibers are responsible for higher power output activities at maximal exertion. Think jumping as high as you can, or running a 100m sprint (0-20ish seconds).
As you get older, you’ll hear that it’s inevitable that your body begins to ‘lose’ muscle. When in reality, the muscle loss is more of a reconfiguring of muscle type. It looks like its more of a transition of fiber type – your body turns your existing Type 2a and 2b muscle fibers into Type 1. And your Type 1 fibers can transition into tendon with long period of non-use.
From there, we can deduce a few things around exercise:
-Exercise focus with older adults is usually to emphasize power and strength activities in our training program to stave off power loss as long as we can. This will slow the deterioration of strength and muscle quality as we age.
-We need to keep a good amount of full range of motion exercises in our program to keep functional ability high. Muscles need to be used through their fullest of ranges in order to maintain fiber type and flexibility.
-Longer duration, low impact activities like walking and swimming are great to keep your healthspan long relative to your lifespan.
Coming up: Nutrition for old farts
I’ll be in touch in the next couple of days to update you on nutrition for muscle maintenance for older adults. As a teaser, here is a quick action you can take with a related article to hold you off until then!
-Increase protein intake to consume 1-1.2 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight per day to support protein synthesis in muscle.