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7 Tips to Help Seniors Maintain Muscle Mass

Written by Kristen Hicks
 about the author
4 minute readLast updated April 21, 2023

Most people don’t really think about what aging will mean for the body until it starts happening. Some concerns are more obvious than others, but what about practical issues like the loss of muscle mass? 45% of seniors in the U.S. lose muscle mass as they age. The gradual loss of muscle over the years is called sarcopenia. While it influences everyone starting around the mid-40s, as you might expect, it’s much more extreme for people who are inactive in their later years.

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Why maintaining muscle mass matters

Anyone reading this probably doesn’t need that much convincing that losing muscle isn’t a good thing. But the extent of the consequences of sarcopenia may not be self-evident. All of the things that become more difficult for your parent as they age — doing chores around the house, walking, getting dressed, getting in and out of the bath — they’re all going to be that much more difficult to do the less muscle mass they have.
Loss of muscle mass also contributes to a greater risk of illnesses such as diabetes and osteoporosis. It’s not just about having a harder time lifting heavy objects; losing muscle can influence many aspects of your parent’s health and day-to-day life. But they’re not powerless to do anything about it.

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How to help your parent keep their muscles working longer

There are seven steps you can take to slow the effects of sarcopenia.

Add plenty of protein to your diet

One of the most important things you can do is encourage your parent to include plenty of healthy proteins to add nutrition to their diet. That doesn’t mean they should start eating steaks for every meal, but including a healthy mix of snacks and ingredients that include protein in their diet is important.
Foods high in protein include:
  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Pork
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Beans
  • Eggs
  • Milk and dairy products
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
This step is a lot less useful though if it’s all your parent does. For best results, it’s important that they combine it with the next two steps.

Do weight training

Your parent doesn’t have to become a bodybuilder. Even if they just do a few simple weight training exercises each day, it will help slow the effects of muscle loss. Pick a specific time of day and make a routine out of it. Commit to just 15-20 minutes to start if they know that’s what will get them to do it.

Do aerobics

Aerobic exercise won’t have as big of an effect on maintaining muscle mass as weight training, but it’s helpful as well. Aerobics don’t produce big muscles, but they do help strengthen how well your parent’s muscles work on a cellular level and are worth including in their routine as well.

Take vitamin D supplements

Many people are low on vitamin D without realizing it and the effects of getting too little of the vitamin are serious. Low vitamin D levels are linked to having less muscle strength and an increased risk of falls and disabilities. But it’s a simple enough problem to fix. Ask your parent’s doctor to test their vitamin D levels and, if the test shows they’re low, start taking a vitamin D supplement.

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Supplement their diet with omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids are another nutrient that contributes to muscle health. They have anti-inflammatory effects as well as increasing the rate of muscle protein synthesis. Your parent can take advantage of those benefits by adding fish oil or flaxseed oil to their diet.

Take HMB supplements

HMB is a supplement that research suggests is useful for slowing or reducing muscle waste. Your parent should talk to their doctor before adding any new supplements to their diet, but if they agree it’s worth trying, HMB could be a helpful addition to their efforts to maintain muscle mass.

Ask your parent’s doctor to check their hormone levels

For women in particular, the hormone balance in their body can have a significant influence on their muscle mass. Your parent’s doctor can check their hormone levels each year with blood tests and, if important hormones are low, they can take supplements to correct their hormonal balance.
Your parent can’t avoid the affects of aging completely, but they can take steps to make them as manageable as possible. By adding healthy nutrients and habits into their life, they’ll have an easier time living independently for longer.

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Meet the Author
Kristen Hicks

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical, legal or financial advice or create a professional relationship between A Place for Mom (of which OurParents is a trademark) and the reader.  Always seek the advice of your health care provider, attorney or financial advisor with respect to any particular matter and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site.  Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; A Place for Mom does not recommend or endorse the contents of the third-party sites.