Health & Fitness

Yes, boomers can build muscle

Many signs of getting older are just cosmetic. Skin gets wrinkles all over the body. Formerly firm flesh begins to sag. Hair turns gray.

Some parts of aging are more than cosmetic — but the good part is, they’re reversible, and, unlike plastic surgery, the reversal doesn’t cost a thing. For example, once you hit 40, your strength and muscle mass begin to diminish. That loss speeds up with every decade, so you’ll lose muscle and strength faster at 50 and even faster at 60. But you can still slow down the aging clock by working to rebuild what you’ve lost.

It’s true that you may no longer have the hormones to build the bulging biceps and thighs of youth. But you can always build stronger and firmer muscles, no matter how old you are.

Once you’ve lived for half a century, the muscle you build is functional, rather than cosmetic. Remember that an important part of having good balance is strength. But the more years you’ve lived, the quicker strength will fade away if not constantly exercised. That’s why a week or so in bed with the flu will leave a boomer shaky. Strength and balance in those older than 50 can deteriorate that quickly.

To keep yourself strong and vigorous for your entire life, begin a daily routine of simple exercises you can do at home. Senior centers usually offer scheduled exercise groups you can join; or if you have the resources, you can hire a personal trainer to evaluate your strength needs and design a program for you. However, don’t be afraid to join a gym. You may be surprised by the number of boomer-aged folks you see there; gym memberships are growing in popularity among those older than 50.

Of course, you need a routine that will work every muscle so that your body keeps its physical proportion. If, for example, you create super-strong biceps without equivalent back muscles to handle the force those biceps generate, you’ll eventually suffer an injury.

That’s why a mix of resistance and activity will provide the most efficient way to slow down the clock. If you lift weights one day, you can walk for several miles the following day, then rest on the third day. That system allows full recovery time for the muscles. Restoring all the nutrients to the muscle cells takes a lot more time now than it did 20 years ago.

Start with light weights that work the major muscle groups. Do squats while holding a pair of dumbbells on your shoulders; that will work every part of the lower body. Biceps curls will build the upper arms and the shoulders. You may need to purchase a machine or gym membership for pulldowns, but that important exercise will strengthen your back muscles.

Make your physical routine a basic habit, like brushing your teeth or taking a shower. That way, no matter how many candles on your birthday cake, you’ll never be too old to be strong.