Building Muscle as You Age. An older man preparing to perform squats.

Building Muscle as You Age

Building muscle might seem like a vain pursuit but doing so is one of the most beneficial things we can do to improve our health, become more functional, and remain independent as we get older.

In today’s post, we’ll discuss the importance of muscle mass, a hidden danger of aging, and how the process might differ for older individuals.

Let’s dive in.

The Importance of Muscle Mass (And The Dangers of Aging)

A notable benefit of muscle is that it increases your metabolic rate, allowing you to eat more calories daily without gaining weight. Muscle is a metabolically-costly tissue, and each pound you build contributes to a healthy metabolism, allowing you to eat more food without gaining weight.

Another benefit of muscle is that having more of it leads to better insulin sensitivity (a measure of how sensitive cells are to the hormone). As a result, your pancreas has to produce and release less of the hormone to absorb glucose and shuttle it to various body cells. A long-term health advantage is that you would be at a lower risk of metabolic conditions, such as diabetes.

The third benefit of muscle tissue is that it makes you stronger, more functional, and more independent. Many older individuals lose their physical capacity and must rely on others for even the simplest activities. By protecting your muscle, you get to maintain a high quality of life even as you reach your sixties, seventies, and beyond.

A hidden danger of aging is the progressive loss of muscle, also known as sarcopenia. Factors like physical inactivity, poor sleep, and a low protein intake contribute to sarcopenia, leading to muscle loss over the decades.

How Building Muscle Differs For Older Individuals

As with many things, building muscle becomes different as we get older. Most notably, it gets challenging to complete demanding workouts that lead to quicker muscle growth. Older individuals must perform shorter and less demanding sessions, paying careful attention to their recovery and soreness.

Another difference older individuals notice is that progress occurs more slowly. Where a 20-something man could build muscle at a steady rate for years, someone in their fifties or sixties will experience slower growth. 

As stated above, older folks cannot tolerate the same demanding training, which prevents them from causing the same growth stimulus. Additionally, testosterone levels begin to decline after the age of 30, which also slows down muscle hypertrophy and impacts recovery.

The third way muscle growth differs for older individuals relates to exercise selection. Younger people are more resilient and can handle large amounts of squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, and other demanding exercises. But, older people must be more careful with their exercise selection because such complex activities are more difficult to recover from. As a result, basing your training around these movements can lead to recovery issues, preventing you from growing well in the long run.

A better approach is to perform compound exercises within reason but base your training around assistance and isolation movements like goblet squats, bicep curls, leg extensions, leg presses, etc.

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