When you’re young, training and building muscle for both health and aesthetic purposes can be a top priority. Unfortunately, our muscle mass, strength and function decline with age. After the age of 30, our muscle mass reduces at a rate of around 3-8%, declining even faster once you reach 60.
While this is a natural, and seemingly unavoidable, aspect of aging, muscle decline can have disastrous consequences for longevity. Known as sarcopenia, age-related muscle decline greatly increases the risk of falls and injuries .
Fortunately for us, our muscles remain plastic and adaptable even as we age, and there are several strategies to improve muscle mass and recovery time.
Muscles and mitochondria
The cause of sarcopenia as we age is thought to be multifactorial, involving hormonal and nutritional changes as well as increased inactivity .
One major contributor to muscle aging is our mitochondria. Microscopic mitochondria are probably familiar from biology class as being the powerhouse of the cell. Considering that they provide energy for our bodies to move, it is no surprise that mitochondria are most concentrated in muscle cells.
However, with age, mitochondria tend to dysfunction reducing our energy supply. Indeed, mitochondrial dysfunction is one of the nine hallmarks of aging.
What happens during muscle recovery?
During strength training, your muscles are forced to contract and stretch as far and as fast as they can, causing microscopic tears in the muscle fabric. These tears grow in size depending on how intense your workout is. While this is a natural process that allows your muscles to grow, it also explains why intense exercise needs to be followed by rest and recovery.
During exercise, your body uses up its glycogen stores for energy, leading to an accumulation of lactic acid in your cells. You can sometimes feel this build up during intense training. Lactic acid can lead to muscle soreness, and is another good reason why muscle recovery is required to clear all the lactic acid from your cells.
This is why it is important to allot a day of rest and recovery for every day of intense workouts. During muscle recovery, satellite cells work to repair the microscopic muscle tears. They replicate at the site of the damage and grow into mature cells, fusing with the damaged muscle fibres. This forms new muscle protein strands, increasing the size and strength of your muscles and preparing them for your next workout.
Best ways to boost muscle recovery
There are several strategies to reduce muscle decline as we age and boost muscle recovery. Luckily, they complement a healthy lifestyle that can improve health and lifespan:
- Regular exercise and strength-based training. The CDC recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise per week, as well as 2 days of muscle strengthening activity. Once the realm of hyper-masculine gym lads, strength training has become popularised for maintaining muscle as we age. This can include lifting weights, using resistance bands, using your body weight, some types of yoga, and even heavy gardening! Both aerobic and strength-based exercise has been shown in studies to improve muscle mass, strength and function, as well as counteracting sarcopenia in older adults . They should be prioritised as your busy life schedule gradually slows down towards retirement and you have more free time to focus on exercise.
- Rest. Equally, muscle recovery is considered to be as important as muscle training itself. Knowing your limits during training, to limit muscle strain, as well as scheduling rest days in between training are imperative to healthy muscle recovery. The amount of recovery time your body needs varies for each person and your workout intensity. Light aerobic exercise may only need 24 hours while more strenuous strength-based training may take up to two to three days for your muscles to fully recovery. Varying workouts, by changing the type of activity or focus muscle group can also help.
- Nutrition. While it is important to eat a balanced diet generally, it is especially important for muscle recovery as we age. Different food groups hold different properties beneficial to muscle recovery; eating healthy sources of protein like oily fish will help rebuild muscle fibres. While carbohydrates will restore depleted glycogen levels. Combining a varied exercise program with a diet of optimal calories and protein can improve muscle and reduce insulin resistance, a condition prevalent in older people .
- Supplements. While protein powders and prework out powders are fueling bodies around the country, new so-called longevity supplements have become mainstream and hold potential for muscle recovery. One such supplement is Timeline, which contains 500mg of Mitopure’s purified urolithin A. This is a powerful postbiotic that can boost mitochondrial health. As we age and our mitochondria begin to malfunction, they can be cleared away by mitophagy. This antiaging process clears defective mitochondria and allows them to repair themselves, boosting energy and muscle recovery. Mitopure can trigger this process, and is the first and only clinically-tested purified urolithin A in supplement form.
Things to avoid
Sometimes, it may feel like your muscles are taking longer than usual to recover from exercise and that you are really feeling your age. A number of factors can influence this, including the intensity of your work out as well as your own physical fitness. Lifestyle habits like sleep, exposure to stress and diet and can also impact recovery rate. It is beneficial to limit alcohol and tobacco for longevity anyway, and these can also affect your musculoskeletal system and prevent effective muscle recovery.
It is important not to rush muscle recovery, as reducing recovery time to work out stresses your muscles while they are in sub-optimal condition. As you build your fitness, the time it takes for your muscles to recover after exercise should lessen and lessen. Scaling up your activity and pushing your body to gradually do more, will maintain muscle as you age as well as aid recovery.
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