By Christine Steele
The recent pandemic has made it easier than ever to not exercise. While travel and activities such as gyms and workout classes have mostly resumed, many people are still working from home, which has led to a lot more couch time and a lot less physical activity, according to a study in GeroScience, an international journal on the biology of aging.
Our daily steps have been reduced by shortened routines. Our screen time has increased due to remote work and school. We’ve become more sedentary, and our snacking has likely increased, and maybe not always in the healthiest of ways.
What Causes Muscle Loss?
Muscle loss occurs naturally as we age, starting as early as our mid 30s, according to Harvard Health. By the time we hit 50, at least 10 percent of adults have developed muscle loss, Healthline reports.
Age-related muscle loss can lead to chronic health problems, including diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, lower immunity, increased risk of falls, and even cognitive decline and depression, all of which can negatively impact our quality of life.
Even before the pandemic, most older adults were not meeting the World Health Organization's recommendations of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise and two days of strength training per week.
According to the study, even short periods of reduced activity can result in “rapid loss of muscle mass and physical function, even in younger adults.”
Recovery from Covid and other illnesses often requires days of bed rest. The study shows that muscle volume can decrease in as little as two days of immobility.
How to Prevent Muscle Loss
The good news is, there are a number of ways to prevent muscle loss as we age. Strength training three times a week can not only slow down the progression of muscle loss, but even reverse it. Combining strength training with aerobic exercise can be even more effective at preventing or reversing muscle loss. And you don’t have to go to a gym to get started. With simple exercises you can do at home, you can create a workout to keep yourself strong and healthy.
Resistance bands are a low-cost way to exercise at home and have been proven to be just as effective as weight machines or free weights in preventing age-related muscle loss. With a resistance band, you can do all of the same exercises as you would with free weights from the comfort of your living room.
Here are few exercises you can do using a resistance band:
- Bicep curl
- Chest press
- Triceps press
- Lateral raise
- Bent over row
- Leg press
When people think of aerobic exercise, they often think of running or hopping on the treadmill or Stairmaster at the gym. But, you can get an aerobic workout at home with no equipment at all. While you may associate aerobic exercise with weight loss, it is also proven to be effective in slowing the progression of muscle loss, particularly when combined with strength training.
To get an aerobic workout at home, Medical News Today suggests these fun fitness activities:
- Jumping rope
- Arm circles
- Trunk rotation
- Dancing to music
- Screamer lunges
- Lateral shuffles
- Mountain climbers
Body Weight Exercises
Using your own bodyweight as resistance can also be an effective way to prevent and even reverse muscle loss as you age. Again, no equipment is needed and you can even incorporate modifications to accommodate your strength and where you are in your journey.
Some common bodyweight exercises with modifications include:
- Push ups — Try standing wall or counter push ups.
- Squats — Try a seated to standing squat, or squat to chair.
- Planks—You can do wall planks, or planks using your knees and elbows.
- Lunges — Try reverse lunges and use a chair or a wall for balance.
While we can’t prevent ourselves from getting older, there is plenty we can do to keep ourselves strong and healthy as we age. An exercise routine that includes regular strength training to prevent age-related muscle loss can increase our quality of life, help us live longer, healthier lives, and maintain our independence as we age. Strength training can also help lower our cholesterol and blood pressure, increase our immunity, and even improve our cognitive functioning. So, don’t wait to get started!