Why Balanced Body Composition Is Critical for People Over 50

You almost always hear about weight loss as the way to maintain health. But the truth is that a balanced body composition—optimal amounts of muscle and, yes, even fat—is the scientifically proven way to stay vital as you age. 

Why? 

Because after the age of 30, according to Harvard Health Publishing, you lose muscle at a rate of 3%-5% each decade, also known as sarcopenia.  And when you focus on weight loss alone you can make things worse because it often leads to a loss of both fat and muscle. In fact, even if you are the exact same weight today that you were at 30 but have not done much to offset the normal muscle loss that occurs with age, then you are moving your body composition in the wrong – and unhealthy – direction.  

By the time you reach 50, decades of muscle loss make improving body composition ever more challenging because it only gets harder to gain muscle and keep it on as you reach 60 and beyond.

Why is more muscle important as you age?

Muscle protects your bones, helps your balance, increases your metabolism, and allows you to keep doing the activities you love. In addition, according to Dr. Marc Bubbs in his book, Peak, “grip strength, leg strength, and lean muscle mass are three evidence-based predictors strongly associated with longevity.”

So, how do you slim down while keeping your muscles strong? 

To lose fat and maintain muscle, you need to: 

  • eat a protein-rich diet
  • get in resistance exercises 2 to 3 times per week
  • decrease inflammation through rest, colorful foods, and addressing the underlying sources of inflammation that are unique to you

Protein-Rich Diet

As you age you need more protein than you did when you were in your 30’s.  And since your ability to break down and absorb protein becomes less efficient over time, it’s important to include protein in each meal.

Make sure to include protein-dominant foods, such as pasture-raised meats, wild-caught fish, broths and stocks, eggs, cottage cheese, and organic soy such as tofu, tempeh, or edamame. Beans and nuts are fantastic additions to your meals, and while they contain protein, they aren’t protein-dominant foods. Include them, but don’t rely on them as your primary source of dietary protein.

Resistance Exercise

Resistance exercises are effective ways to build muscle and improve body composition. 

Bodyweight resistance training, also known as movement training, is a good place to begin once you are sure you have good joint stability and mobility.  Some typical bodyweight strength exercises are:

  • Planks
  • Push-ups
  • Pull-ups
  • Air squats
  • Walking lunges

If you’re new to strength training or have just been away for a while start with one set of 10-15 repetitions and build up to 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions. 

Once you feel comfortable with bodyweight training, you can consider adding load, such as dumbbells, weight machines, or bands.  The addition of external load will increase the results you’re after—more muscle and less fat.

 Note: If you lack proper joint stability and mobility, jumping into resistance training can cause imbalances and possibly lead to injuries. If you have any concerns or just need some guidance, consult an exercise professional, such as a physical therapist or personal trainer, for evaluation and corrective exercises.  

Decrease Inflammation

All of us deal with inflammation—it’s an entirely normal and crucial part of your body’s processes. However, when inflammation is ongoing or exaggerated, it becomes harmful. Specifically, it decreases your ability to maintain optimal body composition. Inflammation degrades your muscle-building capacity and makes it much easier for you to gain fat as opposed to metabolically healthy lean mass. 

Try to identify the inflammatory triggers that are specific to you. Common causes of inflammation are periodontal disease or cavities, immune imbalances that lead to sore joints or arthritis, or an injury that just won’t heal. Talk to your doctor about any long-standing pain or symptom that won’t resolve. Your ability to age well depends on it!