It doesn’t matter how old you are; you can still build muscle. Studies have shown that even people in their 90s can build bulk and strength if they lift weights. In fact, any observer can factually state that the number of members 55 and older at commercial gyms is constantly increasing.
There are three essential things to keep in mind if you want to build more muscle at middle age and beyond:
- You need to lift weights or work with stretch bands for the necessary resistance to create stronger muscles.
- You can’t train like a 20-year-old anymore. At 55 and older, you can’t train every day, or even every other day, because your body requires more time to recuperate from each workout.
- The principle of resistance training is even more important as you get older. You have to damage the muscles slightly; tire them out, so they come back stronger when healing to deal with such potential damage in the future.
The New York Times quotes the published studies of Marcas Bamman, director of the Center for Exercise Medicine at the University of Alabama, as saying, “Men and women in their 60s and 70s who began supervised weight training developed muscles that were as large and strong as those of your average 40-year-old. Older muscles will become larger and stronger if you work them.”
Bamman’s studies and others also have proved that there are biochemical processes that help bulk up older muscle fibers, but those processes can only be started by pushing the muscles until they are exhausted. Often, the typical four or five sets of 10 to 15 reps are not enough to genuinely tire the muscles.
Most gyms offer private trainers who can assess your physical condition and design a workout to improve it. Getting a customized workout is worth the money. Also, discuss “change-ups” with the trainer.
But Bamman and other researchers don’t promise miracles. Working out with a carefully designed resistance program will rebuild decades of muscle loss, but not back to the sleek body of a 20-year-old. Resistance workouts may often erase the muscle loss of about two decades, but not much more.
Nevertheless, there’s another reason to do regular resistance workouts — no matter what your gender, no matter what your age. As people get older, they begin to lose their muscle fibers. The fibers themselves die off. Since each muscle fiber is a source of strength and power, fewer of them will limit the amount of strength that can be rebuilt.
The loss of muscle fibers happens faster as folks age, and even faster for those who are sedentary. Regular exercise helps keep muscle fibers from dying off. In fact, while it’s well known that working out is an actual health issue, the newest research is showing that resistance training, and yes, even aerobic training can help prevent dementia. Working the body can also delay the onset of dementia. That’s certainly worth the workout.