If you're a typical middle-aged adult, you're gaining 10 pounds of body fat and losing 5 pounds of muscle mass every 10 years, according to trainer and fitness author Wayne Westcott. That means you're actually gaining 15 pounds of fat per decade, while simultaneously losing strength. But you can reverse that trend. Eating smart and exercising can help you regain muscle mass and lose excess fat. Consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.
A strength-training program can help older exercisers regain their muscle mass. Increasing your lean mass improves your metabolic rate, so you burn more calories, even while at rest. Strength-training exercises can also increase your bone density. Additionally, getting in shape provides other benefits, such as reducing your risk of diabetes, improving your digestive functions -- which may in turn reduce your risk of colon cancer -- lowering your blood pressure, improving your cholesterol levels and reducing discomfort caused by arthritis.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that older adults perform strength-training exercises at least twice each week on non-consecutive days. Begin each session with five to 10 minutes of light aerobic activity, such as riding an exercise bike. Start with one set of each exercise for every major muscle group, including the back, chest, arms, hips, legs, shoulders and abdominals. Each set consists of eight to 12 repetitions. Aim for a weight that makes it feel very challenging to complete the final two to three repetitions in the set with good form. When you can do 12 reps of an exercise without feeling this fatigue, add up to 5 percent more weight. Exhale when you lift the weight and inhale as you lower it, to avoid blood pressure spikes.
Upper-body exercises include bench presses, lateral raises, biceps curls, triceps extensions, lat pulldowns and ab curls. Lower-body options include squats, leg curls, lunges and leg extensions. When you're just starting out with resistance training, machines may be your best option because they support some of the weight for you and help keep your form pristine. If you suffer from joint pain or don't have access to weights, consider using resistance tubing as another alternative to build muscle mass. Most of the exercises you do with dumbbells can be performed with these bands of rubber that stretch to provide a challenge to your muscles.
The CDC recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week for older adults, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity. The CDC defines moderate activity as 50 to 60 percent of your maximum effort, while vigorous exercise puts you at the 70- to 80-percent level. Suggested moderate activities range from biking or brisk walking to pushing a lawn mower or taking a dance class. Vigorous aerobic exercise can include running or climbing stairs. The CDC notes that 300 minutes of exercise per week will provide added benefits. But if you’re out of shape at age 60, it’s safer to begin with 150 minutes.
Improving your diet is a key part of any fitness program. Base your diet on fruits and vegetables, lean protein sources, whole grains and low-fat dairy products. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons suggests that seniors eat heavier meals earlier in the day and then consume a light dinner in the evening. The AAOS also recommends eating 20 to 30 grams of fiber per day and avoiding processed foods.