building Muscle After age 50

With age, they say, comes wisdom. You add up the sum of your life's experiences, factor in your unique philosophy, and discover that you know a thing or two about many things.

Building muscle? Well, that's something that may not happen as naturally as you get older. And as you advance into your 50s, your body may not keep pace with all that knowledge you've stored in your brain.

But not all hope is lost — far from it. There's no reason, save for serious physical limitations, why you can't build muscle as you move into middle-age and beyond. True, it's not as easy for you to build your body as it is for the young gun pumping iron on the bench press next to yours, but it's hardly impossible.

Here's the Truth About Muscle Mass and Aging

Our bodies don't lose muscle tone as we age without reason. A decrease in muscle mass is a natural part of aging — a part of our "wiring" that we're powerless to prevent, for the most part.

The primary reason behind the age-related loss of muscle of mass is a slower metabolism. Your metabolism starts to slow in your 40s, and you begin to lose muscle while finding it harder to build it. There's even a scientific name for age-related muscle loss: sarcopenia.

At least one study shows that the average human loses as much as 8% of their muscle mass with each passing decade after they turn 30. The decline may worsen after age 60.

Is It Possible to Build Muscle at 50?

The answer is a resounding "yes!" Not only can you continue to build muscle after 50, although perhaps not at the rate as when you were 20 years younger, it's also essential to your overall health. For one, it can help you avoid frailty as you age and strengthen your entire body.


While building muscle as you get older takes plenty of physical effort, it takes just as much mental energy. Dedicate yourself to the task with the determination that you're going to stick with an exercise program that helps you reach your goals no matter what.

The How-to of It: Strategies for Building Muscle After 50

The next question is, "Where to start?" Building muscle as you age involves a multi-faceted process that includes the right exercises, rest, proper nutrition, and more. Let's dig deeper:

Developing a Plan

It's always worth it to have a system in place before you step up to the weight rack at your gym and start cranking out the reps. You not only want to ensure that you're getting the best results from your training, but also that you're doing it safe enough to avoid injury (and injuries can happen more frequently as we age).

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that people over 50 should perform strength-training at least two times a week and up to four to build muscle. You should rest at least 48 hours between strength-training sessions to give your body and muscles enough time for full recovery between workouts. A key point to remember is that overtraining can lead to injuries and other setbacks, and not an increase in muscle mass and overall fitness.

An image of workout schedule sheet and dumbbell

For optimal fitness, you should also include cardio training every week. Women, who are at a greater risk of osteoporosis than men, should particularly have a plan for consistent cardio training in place.

Using Strength-training Exercises to Build Muscle

As we get older, it's important that we cover all muscle groups in a single training session rather than focusing on a different muscle group in successive days. Do exercises that target your chest, shoulders, biceps, triceps, abs, back and the muscles of your legs, including your quads and calves.

Focusing on multi-joint exercises, rather than exercises that isolate one muscle help improve stability, balance, and coordination, all of which can become compromised as we get older.

Choosing Weight to Lift

An image of a woman in her sixties gaining strength in gym, training with dumbbells, doing bicep curls

It's important to choose a weight that you can lift comfortably, without risking injury, but one that challenges you. One method involves selecting a weight that you can lift for 15 repetitions and yet tires you as you near the end of the 15 reps. Strive for 10 to 15 reps and perform three repetitions of each exercise.

While you're probably heard that you build muscle by lifting heavier weights (with fewer reps), you can develop muscle mass by using lighter weights and higher reps. So, you could do three sets of 10 to 15 reps of a lighter weight to failure (when you reach a point of fatigue in which you can't do any more reps) and experience the same gains as you would by doing seven set of three repetitions with a heavier weight.

You should always switch to a lighter weight if any exercise causes you pain.

Varying Exercises for Even Better Results

Something else that you can do to keep your body and mind fresh is to change exercises from session to session, i.e., do one type of exercises for a specific muscle group on one day, and then do a different kind for the same group during your next strength training session.

The following is a suggested list of the most effective muscle-building exercises for people over 50:

Chest

Dumbbell or barbell bench presses

Back

Rows, deadlifts, and pull-ups

Legs

Lunges, squats, deadlifts

Shoulders

Overhead and military presses

Arms

Chin-ups

Core

Ab wheel and hanging leg raises.

Maintaining Proper Form to Get the Most From Each Exercise

You should never overlook the importance of maintaining proper form when doing any weight training exercise. The goal is to build muscle while avoiding injury and proper form protects your knees and back, but also other areas of your body.

That said, always consult with a personal trainer before you try an exercise for the first time and have them monitor your form. They can also help you to choose the proper starting weight.

What Is the Best Exercise for Older Adults?

Is there such a thing as a perfect exercise for older adults? Probably not, because a particular exercise that's ideal for one person may not be suitable for someone else, or the other person has physical limitations that prevent them from doing that exercise.

Resistance and strength training is effective for older adults because, as mentioned earlier, they lose muscle mass as they age. Moreover, strength training is an excellent way to combat age-related abdominal fat and even more efficient in that regard than cardiovascular exercise, at least according to one study.

The fact is, several exercises help older adults improve their fitness levels while strengthening — and even building — muscle. 

  • Swimm​ing
  • Yoga
  • Cycling
  • Walking
  • Pilates
  • Resistance-band training

They all are relatively low-impact types of exercise that people over 50 can perform comfortably.

Do You Need a Lot of Protein to Build Muscle?

Muscles are made up of two types of protein, actin and myosin, which consist of amino acids linked together. There are also two types of amino acid, essential and non-essential, and both types come from our food.

When we eat foods rich in protein, such as eggs, meat, and fish, our digestive system breaks down the protein into amino acids that our body uses for a variety of functions, including muscle building. So, the bottom line is that protein is an essential part of anyone's diet who wants to increase their muscle mass or to maintain the mass they already have.

The best time to send amino acids to the muscles is right after a workout. That said, drinking two glasses of low-fat milk and/or eating a lean meat sandwich as soon after your workout as possible will provide a healthy protein infusion.

Keep in mind, however, that should also eat an equal amount of carbohydrates after a workout because carbs increase insulin levels and help the muscles absorb the amino acids they need to grow. Our bodies also need carbs for recovery and energy but be careful of eating too many carbs, which can lead to weight gain.

You should also be cautious about eating excess amounts of protein because it can contribute to increased body fat levels. Also, it's harder for people with kidney disease to get rid of waste derived from extra protein.

A colourful illustration with different food types

Conclusion

Ignore naysayers who say you can't build muscle as you get older. While it's true that we also lose muscle mass as we age, it's also true that we can build it through exercises such as weight and strength training.

You will need to train differently than you did when your younger because your body needs more recovery time as you get older, and you'll probably need to use lighter weights. But the bottom line is that you can make gains as you get older.

Remember, choose a routine that's right for you and that you can do comfortably. There's nothing stopping you

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