How To Keep Your Body Strong As You Age
None of us want to lose muscle mass. I know I don’t. But, how do you keep your body strong, even when the winds of time seem to be blowing against you? And why do some people look better than ever as they make their way to 50, then 60, and onwards, while others shrink in size and vigor? If keeping your body strong, fit, and full of energy is important to you, then read on. We’re going to explore the ins and outs of keeping your body strong, even as you age!
Growing old doesn’t mean we’re doomed to a decreased quality of life, or the many medical conditions that plague so many today. Growing old is a natural process, and as long as we do the right things, it can be a downright joyful journey! One of these things has to do with the prevention of osteoporosis. You’re probably aware that many people (especially women) get this “silent disease” as they grow older. It’s a condition where the bones become brittle and lose their mass. When your bones thin out, you’re more likely to fall, and even break them, which obviously leads to a slew of problems, while greatly decreasing your quality of life.
So, how in the world does one prevent osteoporosis? Well, there are a number of steps you can take now, and each day from here on out. As you’ve probably guessed, one of those steps has to do with a regular workout routine that consists of weight bearing exercise. This doesn’t always have to look like heading to the gym to lift free weights or work the machines. Although, it certainly can. Lucky for us, there are many ways to do weight bearing forms of movement.
Weight bearing exercise is any kind of exercise whereby you work against gravity. Walking, jogging, hiking, dancing, climbing up stairs, playing tennis—these are all forms of weight bearing exercise. Exercises such as swimming and bicycling are amazing for your cardiovascular health. Even yoga, Pilates and calisthenics help build strength as you age. In fact, almost every form of movement is going to help you prevent osteoporosis, whereas leading a largely sedentary will inevitably lead to it.
Who is at risk for osteoporosis?
Everyone who ages is at risk for osteoporosis and osteopenia. (Osteopenia is a fancy term to describe the loss of bone mass. It’s a precursor to full blown osteoporosis.) Women are at greater risk than men, especially asian and caucasian women. Those with small body frames have a higher risk factor, as do those whose family members have suffered from the disease. Smokers are also at greater risk because studies have shown that smokers don’t absorb calcium into their body as well as their abstaining peers. If you had an early menopause, you might be at higher risk for developing this bone disease, and if you’ve broken a bone (or two) after your fiftieth birthday, you’re also at greater risk. If you fit the bill for any of these risk factors, pay close attention to the following information.
Eat nutrient-dense foods
To prevent osteoporosis, and also keep your body strong as you age, you’ll want to eat a nutrient-rich diet, especially one full of calcium and vitamin D. You don’t have to focus so much on specific vitamins or minerals if you commit to eating a colorful diet packed with nutrients. Rather than purchasing man-made foodstuffs, which basically means anything that’s in a box or package and doesn’t fall from a tree or grow from the earth’s soil, you should shop the periphery of your grocery store. Better still, shop primarily at your local farmer’s market. If you bought the bulk of your food from local farmers, you’d be doing your body and the environment a world of good.
For those of you who like to know which foods contain the nutrients essential for bone health and overall strength, here are a few helpful lists:
Some of the best sources of calcium and vitamin D are as follows:
- Egg yolks
- Cod liver oil
- Cod liver oil
- Vitamin-D fortified foods
In my view, it’s best to get your nutrients from food first, rather than supplements. However, taking a vitamin D supplement, especially during the winter, isn’t a bad idea. In fact, most of us don’t get enough vitamin D from sun and diet alone. This study, published in The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology shows just how deficient most of us are in this vital nutrient. It has even become a global epidemic, but those of us with the means and knowledge are many steps ahead of those without the proper resources. So, make sure you incorporate these foods into your diet on a daily basis, and enjoy the sunshine when you can.
Best food sources for calcium are:
- Sesame seeds
- Chia seeds
- Poppy seeds
- Celery seeds
- Parmesan cheese and other hard cheeses. (Soft cheeses have less calcium than hard ones.)
- Dark, leafy greens
- Whey protein
- Almonds and almond milk
- Fortified beverages
The skinny on magnesium
Magnesium is essential for a lot of bodily reactions—600 to be exact. Many of us aren’t getting enough of the vital mineral. In fact, this 2015 study, published in the journal Nutrients, proves it. We should all aim for at least 100 milligrams of magnesium each day. If you’re chronically low in magnesium, some of the symptoms that come up include:
- High blood pressure
- Muscle cramps
- Problems sleeping
- Lack of energy
- Hormonal imbalances
- Vitamin K deficiency
- Vitamin D deficiency
Best food sources of magnesium:
Seeds like chia, flax, pumpkin, sunflower, etc.
Cacao powder and cacao nibs
Coffee and espresso (especially when consumed black)
What not to do if you want to keep your body strong with age
Certain habits make us weak as we age. You can probably guess what I’m about to say here. Smoking and using any form of tobacco is detrimental to your bone health. So is drinking alcohol in excess. Then there’s the whole sedentary lifestyle we’ve all grown accustomed to. This is terrible for all aspects of health, as is smoking and drinking too much. Most of us know how to stop smoking and drinking in excess, and some of us need professional help for those addictions. But what about the sedentary piece of this puzzle? We all need help getting off our bums and onto our feet. Especially given the fact that sitting often puts you at greater risk for developing osteopenia and osteoporosis.
So, let’s take a look at what we can do to reverse this sedentary lifestyle that’s doing nothing for our bodily strength and overall wellness.
Tips and tricks for sitting less:
Consider using a stand up desk
Take a walk around the park during your lunch break
Walk your dogs (or someone else’s dog) even in the heart of winter
Park far away from your destination and walk to it
Ditch the car altogether and walk or bike to work or school
Get a big backpack and walk to the grocery store
Take the stairs instead of the elevator
Take desk breaks and walk laps around the office or office building whenever you can
Put a cap on couch potato time. There’s no need to binge watch a show. It will be there tomorrow. Try to limit TV watching to an hour or hour and a half each night
Plan a walk each day with a friend, a colleague, family member, or your dog
Do little squats, leg lifts or push ups against the kitchen counter as you make dinner
Listen to music you love and have a private dance party in the comfort of your bedroom. No one has to see.
Set a timer at work—one that reminds you to stand up every 30 minutes or so.
No matter what age you are, your body craves movement. It simply doesn’t like to sit. When you sit in excess, the bones lose their mass and become brittle. Your muscles also lose their mass and even begin to atrophy when you lead a sedentary lifestyle. If you really want to age well, you need to stand more. You need defined muscles and strong bones. Sitting does absolutely nothing for your strength and well being.
A sedentary life also causes spinal deterioration. In order to live a long, healthy life, you need to have a strong, healthy spine. This is a cornerstone of yoga—a long spine equals a long life! Standing more and sitting less promotes good posture. And we must have a long spine and proper posture in order to keep the body strong as we get older. It’s far too easy to hunch over and lose our good posture when we sit for long periods of time. But, standing takes care of this. And when you do sit, practice sitting tall, with a long spine, and a long neck. This will also prevent back pain and promote back health—perfect for those of us who want to maintain the integrity of our skeletal system as we age.
Benefits of traditional weight training
Good ol’ weight training isn’t just for bodybuilders. It’s not just for those of us wanting to “bulk up,” so to speak. Instead, traditional weight training is an excellent way to ensure your body retains its strength with age. If you don’t already lift weights, my hope is that I can inspire you to do so. You don’t have to join a gym. Even having a few different free weights at your house is helpful. Lift them while watching television, waiting for water to boil, or listening to your favorite podcast.
Did you know that the National Osteoporosis Foundation strongly recommends weight training? It’s true, as you can see here. The experts there say you should lift weights two to three times every week, in order to build and maintain bone density and strength. And because us gals are more prone to osteoporosis than our male counterparts—four times more prone—it’s essential that we don’t view weight training as just a guy thing. What’s more, when we lift weights, we also strengthen our ligaments and tendons, which prevents us from injuries as we age.
Another weight lifting benefit has to do with our mental state. A regular weight lifting workout promotes mental clarity and cognitive health—essential as we get older. Lifting weights also helps us build muscle, while burning fat, and also supporting our cardio health and preventing heart disease. And, perhaps best of all, weight training turns you into a fat burning machine! Your metabolism gets a healthy boost and you actually burn calories after the workout session is over. What’s not to love about traditional weight lifting? Absolutely nothing! And if we want to keep our bodies strong as we age, we should commit to lifting weights.
Tips and tricks to getting started with a strength training regimen
This section is geared to the ladies, as we typically weren’t encouraged to strength train as much as our male counterparts when we were young. Fortunately, that has changed in recent years, and now, nearly as many women are lifting weights at the gym as men. But, if you’re like me, and you came of age decades ago, you might need a handful of strength training tips. Here are a few:
Learn form first
You need a strong foundation to build upon. And you need to learn proper form from someone with experience. Back in my college days, my friend Sammy introduced me to the weight machines one summer we stuck around campus instead of going back to our hometowns. I watched him and learned form from him. That stuck with me for a lifetime because I built it into my muscle memory. You should do the same. Enlist an expert friend or pay a personal trainer to get you started. This is well worth it, and will help you your entire life. Plus, you’ll be far less prone to injury by learning good form.
Take a group strength training class
Those weight machines can be downright intimidating. Luckily, group fitness classes that revolve around strength training are popular at most gyms. The teacher will inspire and motivate you, as will your fellow classmates. You’ll learn moves and techniques that you can take home with you to do in your free time.
Pay attention to how strength makes you feel, as opposed to how you look
Just because we don’t look quite as toned as the youngsters around us doesn’t mean we’re not getting stronger and doing our bodies a world of good. It’s important to pay more attention to how strength training makes us feel, as opposed to how it makes us look. Body image issues affect us all. But, the older we get, the more we realize fitness is about feeling good. It’s less about fitting into a smaller pair of jeans. Train to get strong, not to get small!
I hope this article has inspired you to begin a strength training routine, and prep your body for the aging process. You don’t have to get osteopenia, osteoporosis, or become weak and frail as you age. With the right steps, you’ll age gracefully, with inner and outer strength!