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Your ultimate guide to building muscle after 50

That old saying 'move it or lose it' certainly seems to be true.

Your Ultimate Guide to Building Muscle After 50 | Juniper

The key to feeling youthful and healthy is movement.

That old saying 'move it or lose it' certainly seems to be true, especially as we know that we lose muscle mass each year once we pass 30 [1] — and that with age-related muscle loss comes loss of bone density as well.

One of the best ways to maintain muscle mass is to follow a regular exercise program, especially one that includes strength training. Building muscle after 50 is also important for our mobility which is key for completing daily tasks like walking, climbing stairs or carrying groceries.

This article will dive into the impact of strength training on body weight and muscle gain, as well as the benefits of lifting weights and the best muscle-building exercises to get you started.

The benefits of building muscle after 50

Building muscle after 50 has both physical and mental health benefits.

There has previously been a lot of focus on aerobic exercise to promote heart health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Using strength training or resistance training to build muscle also helps to stop age-related muscle decline.

No one is saying you need to become an Olympic-level weight lifter, but incorporating some bodyweight exercises or weight training can assist with both building and maintaining muscle mass, which will help you age well.

Resistance training improves muscle strength and muscle tone which helps to protect your joints against injury.

It also helps you to maintain balance and flexibility, both of which are critical for maintaining independence as you age.

Plus, resistance training leads to an increased muscle-to-fat ratio, meaning that as you gain muscle mass your body burns more body fat helping you maintain or lose weight.

Yet another reason why building muscle after 50 is so important to our ongoing health as we age.

Can you regain muscle mass after 50?

Yes — though it may not be quite as easy as when you were in your 20s, you are never too old to start building muscle.

Just look at Greta Pontarelli who was an 11-time world pole dancing champion at 71, or the 100-year-old grandma who set the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest competitive weight lifter (and she only started lifting weights at 91!) [2][3].

Hormones do play a role in our muscle mass as testosterone levels in men and oestrogen levels in women decrease with age.

This means it is harder (not impossible!) to build muscle mass as we get older.

Older adults may struggle with anabolic resistance, which means the rate at which our bodies create new muscle mass is slower.

Combining a strength training routine with increased daily protein intake and an overall healthy lifestyle will help combat this and have you still building muscle after 50.

Strength training workouts use resistance to muscular contraction to help build strength and gain muscle [4].

Our bodies will work to overcome resistance, which when done repeatedly will lead to increased muscle strength and increased muscle growth.

Strength training has been shown to be highly beneficial for both men and women.

It's true that men typically have more muscle mass to start with, meaning they may show more muscle-building gains compared to women.

But women can build muscle effectively using a strength training routine and the results can be seen in just a few months of consistency.

The best muscle-building exercises for women over 50

The NHS recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity a week [7].

To get the most benefit in the least amount of time, look for compound exercises that work a few different muscle groups at the same time.

You want to challenge your muscles to become stronger in order to build muscle mass and also complete full-body workouts over the course of each week.

Working from your head to your toes, these are some helpful compound exercises that tick the full-body workout box:

  • Overhead press. This targets your shoulders and triceps and can be performed standing or seated with weights.
  • Seated rows. These train your back and biceps and can be done with barbells or dumbbells for added challenge.
  • Bench press. The GOAT for your upper body as it works your chest, triceps and front deltoids. You can also add dumbbells here as part of your weight training.
  • Deadlifts. Working on your hips, deadlifts are great for your back, hamstrings, glutes and even your grip strength.
  • Squats. These work your glutes, abductors and legs.
  • Lunges. A lower body unilateral exercise that helps to stabilise your muscles, and a good alternative if squats aggravate lower back pain. You can add weights to aid with building muscle mass.

Training tips for women over 50

If you want to start strength training after 50, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1. Don't go too hard too fast

Start slow and build up to gradual muscle gain.

Start with an exercise program of resistance training 2 days per week, and 1 set of 8-10 exercises that work your body's major muscle groups.

As you start to find that easy, increase up to 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps of each exercise.

Choose a weight that is challenging enough to be tiring, but not so challenging that you can't complete a full set of reps.

2. Don't neglect your nutrition

Building muscle requires protein. Our bodies use muscle protein synthesis which converts amino acids into muscle protein.

By boosting your protein intake, you can help boost the muscle protein synthesis process.

3. Don't skip sunlight

Research shows us that our bodies need nutrients like vitamin D to support muscle growth.

Many of us are vitamin D deficient, especially through winter months if there isn't a lot of sunlight available.

There is also research that says exposing yourself to sunlight first thing in the morning has a lot of health benefits including to your sleep, which is key for building muscle [5].

4. Don't overdo it

Rest is an important part of muscle building. Your muscles need time to rest, repair and adapt after a strength training workout.

You should incorporate rest days and prioritise getting plenty of sleep between resistance training days [6].

What to eat to gain muscle mass

We know that protein intake is key to building muscle after 50 and maintaining lean muscle.

The addition of high-protein snacks may help with recovery and strength gains.

If you're struggling to meet your daily protein intake, you could look at incorporating protein powders such as Juniper's Nourish Shakes into your diet.

Formulated with 24 grams of high-quality protein, as well as 24 vitamins and minerals, and containing just 204 calories, these shakes are the perfect snack for your calorie deficit and promise to leave you feeling satisfied.

Nutrition is a key piece of the overall health puzzle, but we know it can be a little confusing. That's where coaching can help, like through the supportive Juniper’s Weight Reset Programme.

Through the course of the program, our qualified health coaches and dietitians will provide you with ongoing support, so you can learn healthy habits you can take with you for life.

Should you take any supplements?

Supplements can be a useful addition to any muscle-building diet if you are struggling to maintain optimum levels through your diet.

It's always a good idea to consult a health professional to check your vitamin and mineral levels before taking supplements.

There has been research showing that creatine monohydrate enhances muscle strength by improving strength and muscle mass. Another supplement you might need if deficient is vitamin D.

The other addition to your diet should be plenty of water.

As we set out to build a regular exercise regimen, one of the easiest forgotten pieces is hydration.

Water helps to metabolise carbs and proteins our body uses through our bloodstream and can even help lubricate our joints — all very important functions for muscle building.

It's never too late to gain muscle after 50, even if you've never tried strength training in the first 49 years of your life.

Image credit: Getty Images