Muscle Building Past 50
It’s never too late to start building muscle and strength. Contrary to popular belief, you can build muscle no matter your age. In fact, building muscle after 50 is most important if you look forward to a long life of healthy aging and a strong body.
Age-related muscle loss, called sarcopenia, is a natural part of aging. After age 30, you begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% per decade. Most men will lose about 30% of their muscle mass during their lifetimes. Even worse, you lose strength faster than muscle which may lead to reduced physical functional and a lower quality of life according to the Journal of American Geriatrics Society. Luckily, there is a cure: strength training.
Strength training can not only prevent the decline of muscle mass that’s happening, but also reveres the process and gain mass and strength instead. Both men and women over the age of 50 can and will experience gains in strength and muscle mass when applying basic principles for building muscle, such as progressive overload.
However, there are definitely some challenges when it comes to building muscle later on in life. It definitely isn’t as easy compared to a 25 year old male or female, but the challenges can definitely be overcome.
For one, recovery time is a lot slower, making it harder, but not impossible build muscle as more rest time may be needed between sessions.
Anabolic hormones that control our muscle mass like growth hormone and testosterone are not what they used to be. As we age, testosterone in men and estrogen in women decrease. However, strength training can slow this process down.
Anabolic resistance will also play a role in muscle growth. Younger individuals can stimulate muscle protein synthesis (the rate at which your body creates new muscle) way more efficiently after lifting weights and eating protein. After the age of 50, muscles respond less to training and eating, however this can also be combatted with increased protein intake and heavy strength training.
Bottom line, strength training past 50 SHOULD be incorporated into your fitness routine and same basic principle training rules apply: progressive overload to challenge the muscles and eating more protein to support growth, along with adequate rest and sleep. 2-3 strength training workouts a week has shown to be enough to build significant amounts of muscle in healthy older adults (Sports Med). This includes both compound (multi-joint) and isolation (single muscle group) exercises. Older adults might benefit more from lifting moderate weights for more reps, while reducing risk of injury instead of going all-out heavy and putting more strain on the body. An 8-15 rep range is a sensible way to build muscle and strength and avoid injuries.
Regardless of some hurdles, both anecdotal and scientific evidence has shown that individuals can get great results whether you’re in your 50’s, 60’s, or even 70’s.
J Appl Physiol (1985). 1994 Aug;77(2):614-20. Effects of strength training on total and regional body composition in older men.
Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, June 2000, Volume 48 (6), p 625–630. Epidemiology of Sarcopenia.
Sports Med. 2015; 45(12): 1693–1720. Dose–Response Relationships of Resistance Training in Healthy Old Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.