How can seniors build muscle?

Learn how seniors can build muscle, and some strength training exercises to help you keep fit in old age.

3 min read

Preserving your muscle mass in older age is important for your old age, and it can help you ward off issues like bone density loss that causes life-altering breaks if you fall. If you’re ready to get back into the fitness swing of things, there are several types of exercises you can try. 

If you want to build muscle as a senior, the secret lies in resistance training. Step away from the heavy dumbbells (for now) and grab yourself a set of resistance bands to challenge your muscles and weight. Start ultra-light, and work up to higher levels if you wish.

Embrace the power of resistance training

Overloaded weights are not the answer to senior fitness. One of the most effective ways for seniors to build muscle is through resistance training, instead. This involves using resistance, such as lighter weights, resistance bands, or your body weight to engage and challenge your muscles.

Start with light weights and gradually increase the intensity as your strength improves. Even a few hefty cans from the cupboard are enough to get started with. Resistance bands are also cheap and take up no space. Plus they come in a variety of resistances, so beginners and the experienced can benefit. Engaging in resistance training two to three times a week can significantly enhance your muscle mass and strength.

Whether you choose to lift weights at the gym or hop up for some bodyweight exercises in between your fun activities at home, resistance training is versatile and accessible. Squats, lunges, bicep curls, and modified push-ups are excellent exercises that can be adapted to various fitness levels. These are known as ‘compound’ exercises. These work not one little muscle, but a huge chunk of them. So, they are efficient and effective!

Prioritize protein intake

You can’t build muscle without the right building blocks in your diet. You might have gotten away with stuffing beer and pizza and still bulking up in your youth, but it is a little harder as you age. Luckily, if you focus on a healthy balanced diet with plenty of protein-rich foods such as lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, and nuts, you’ll have everything you need. You’ll not only build a little muscle tone but also set your body up for healthy success through a nutrient-rich and supportive diet, too. 

Remember, protein serves as the building block for muscle tissues and aids in the repair and growth of muscles. Consult a nutritionist to determine your specific dietary needs based on things like your weight, activity level, and health. Protein supplements are a useful tool for many seniors struggling to meet their protein and nutritional needs through regular meals alone.

Stay hydrated for optimal performance

No healthy gains can happen without hydration, since it plays a crucial role in muscle function and overall health. Dehydration can lead to fatigue and hinder your ability to perform exercises effectively. It can also be risky for older people to exhaust their bodies this way.

Ensure you drink an adequate amount of water throughout the day, especially before, during, and after your workout sessions. If you really can’t ‘do’ water, try pepping it up with a healthy, sugar-free addition like cucumber, lemon juice, or fruits. Or focus on herbal teas and other low-caffeine healthy beverages. 

Proper hydration not only supports muscle function but also aids in joint lubrication. This cuts down the risk of injury during exercises. It can also help reduce joint pain and degeneration.

Incorporate cardiovascular exercises for overall fitness

While resistance training is essential for building muscle, cardiovascular exercises enhance overall fitness and contribute to a healthy heart. Ideally, you want a bit of both! Activities like brisk walking, swimming, or cycling promote cardiovascular health in seniors and support weight management. It also helps lower your cholesterol and blood sugar, too. 

Cardiovascular exercise also helps improve endurance, making it easier to engage in resistance training and other daily activities. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, breaking it down into manageable sessions throughout the week. Even 5 minutes is better than nothing!

Ensure adequate rest and recovery

Building muscle isn't just about lifting weights. Adequate rest and recovery are equally crucial. Allow your muscles time to recover between exercise sessions to prevent overtraining and reduce the risk of injury. Listen to your body, and if you experience any persistent pain or discomfort, consult with a healthcare professional to find out what is up.

Quality sleep is another essential aspect of recovery. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night to support the repair and growth of muscle tissues. During sleep, the body releases growth hormones, allowing for the regeneration of cells and muscle fibers. Sleep can be tough for older athletes, as we tend to need less as we age.

Explore low-impact exercises for joint health

Aching joints are a common concern for seniors. They probably don’t make you feel like leaping into action, either. However, incorporating low-impact exercises into your routine can be incredibly beneficial to reduce that pain. Activities like swimming, elliptical training, and yoga provide a gentle yet effective way to engage your muscles without putting excessive strain on your joints.

If you’re looking to start building muscle as a senior, it might be worth having a chat with your doctor, especially if you have existing health issues. However, know that there is an exercise regime out there for everyone, no matter where you are starting from! Modified programs like chair and even bed yoga will help kick start your fitness journey.