Muscle Recovery: A Key Component to Healthy Aging

Muscle Recovery: A Key Component to Healthy Aging

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Supporting your muscle health is important to aging well.

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An older couple embraces in a kitchen.

DEC. 5, 2022   4 MINUTE READ

Sometimes it's not until later in life that a person starts to think about aging well. Healthy aging can mean many things, from keeping your memory intact to maintaining an active social life to staying in peak physical condition. One component of aging well is supporting your muscle health, particularly muscle recovery — your body's ability to repair muscle after exercise or while recovering from disuse (e.g., inactivity due to a sedentary lifestyle, illness or hospitalization).

Recovery is different for older people. Here's what you should know and how you can support your muscles with age.

Muscle Mass and Strength: Important Health Indicators

Research shows muscle mass can say a lot about a person's overall health status, especially for those living with a chronic disease. A review paper in the Annals of Medicine that was supported by Abbott found people with less muscle mass had more adverse outcomes — poorer quality of life, more surgical complications, lower physical function and overall lower survival — than those with more muscle mass. In other studies, lower muscle mass was associated with greater Alzheimer's severity. Additionally, people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who had higher muscle mass experienced better respiratory outcomes. Low hand grip strength is also a powerful predictor of poor patient outcomes such as longer hospital stays, increased functional limitations, poor health-related quality of life and death.

"Muscle mass and strength are important indicators of health status. They should be regularly assessed by a doctor, just as blood pressure or heart rate are checked routinely."

Dr. Suzette Pereira, Ph.D., muscle health expert and research scientist, Abbott

Why Maintaining Muscle Gets Harder Over Time

Your body has a mix of "fast-twitch" and "slow-twitch" muscle fibers. As the names imply, these two types of muscle fibers help accomplish different types of actions. Fast-twitch muscle fibers contract rapidly and with more force but become exhausted more quickly. Slow-twitch muscle fibers, on the other hand, contract more slowly and with less force than fast-twitch fibers but have greater endurance. Some movements rely on fast-twitch fibers for actions that need bursts of speed while calmer, more sustained motions make use of slow-twitch muscle fibers. As you age, both types of fibers tend to shrink in size and quantity, but more fast-twitch fibers are lost overall. As a result, you may feel your muscles lose strength as you get older.

How Muscle Recovery Occurs in Older Adults

During exercise, your body goes through a cycle of breaking down and rebuilding stronger muscles to increase strength over time. These processes of degradation of old tissues and formation of new tissues happen quickly in younger bodies. As you age, however, each step slows down and utilization of nutrients, such as protein, may not be as efficient. Incorporating strength training exercises within your routine in addition to good nutrition is important to support your muscle health and help improve longevity as you age.

Nutrition for Muscle Recovery

Just like you can't build a house without wood and nails, your body can't build muscle without the right nutrients. So, what materials are important for muscle building? In addition to strength training, these nutrients can help your muscles recover after exercise or while recovering from disuse:

  • Protein forms part of the physical structure of every part of your body, including your muscles. Meat and fish, beans and legumes, cheese and yogurt, and nuts and nut butters are all good options.

  • HMB, or β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate, is a small molecule found in the body after the amino acid leucine is metabolized. HMB has been shown to support healthy aging. In one study, HMB supplementation among older hospitalized adults was associated with increased handgrip strength and decreased risk of dying within 90 days. HMB occurs naturally in foods such as avocados and grapefruit but is easier to obtain and more plentiful in nutritional supplements that contain HMB and protein for muscle health.

  • Vitamin C is essential for the formation of collagen, a protein that makes up the tendons that connect muscles to bones. Red and green bell peppers, orange juice, strawberries and cauliflower are excellent sources of vitamin C.

  • Zinc is important for the synthesis of new cells, including muscle cells, and supports the function of muscle tissue. Excellent sources of zinc include beef, fortified breakfast cereals and pumpkin seeds.

Eating well takes effort, especially if you live alone. Sometimes shopping and cooking for yourself can feel like a chore. But if you think about the payoff of maintaining your independence and aging well, it may seem easier. If you're struggling to meet your nutritional needs, consider a high-quality nutritional supplement to fill in the gaps.

Common Menopause Myths: Separating Fact From Fiction

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A middle-aged woman gazes confidently into the distance.


­­Common Menopause Myths: Separating Fact From Fiction


Life transitions can be challenging, and misinformation can make it that much harder to approach a new life stage with confidence. For example, there are many misconceptions and myths about menopause that may leave you feeling unsure about what to expect or how to best navigate this transition.

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Five Ways To Preserve Muscles As You Age

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Did you know that people over the age of 40 may lose up to 8 percent of their muscle mass per decade? And the rate of decline may double after the age of 70.

Advanced muscle loss, or sarcopenia, affects nearly 1 in 3 people over the age 50. Not only are muscles important for everyday physical tasks like picking things up, reaching for something, opening a jar or getting up off a chair, but healthy muscles are essential for organ function, skin health, immunity and your metabolism. In other words, maintaining muscle mass as you age is essential for prolonging a happy and healthy life.

"Muscle loss is the aging factor that's rarely discussed and people accept its signs, such as loss of strength and energy, as a natural part of aging," explains Suzette Pereira, Ph.D., a researcher specializing in muscle health with Abbott. "But muscle health can often tell us how we are going to age, and stay active and independent."

The good news is that with the right steps you can help prevent or slow any muscle loss. While aging is natural, muscle loss doesn't have to be inevitable.

To stay strong as you age, start following the tips below to fuel and keep muscles fit for years to come!

Stay Strong as You Age 

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