When I taught anatomy and physiology to college students, I used to stump them with this question: “What are the functions of your muscle?”
Most students could only give me one function… That muscle moves your body.
But muscle does so much more than that.
Your muscles store energy… boost metabolism… stimulate sex hormone production… reduce the risk of fractures by supporting bones… strengthen your immune system… increase energy by storing glycogen… and stimulate human growth hormone to preserve youth.
Many of my patients in their 70s and 80s think that muscle is no longer important. But they couldn’t be more wrong.
When I see these patients for the first time, I perform a body composition test on them. This way, I can tell how much of their body is made of fat and muscle. Older men often measure dangerously low percentages of muscle.
You begin losing muscle around the age of 30. Every decade after that, you lose about 3 pounds of muscle –unless you do something about it. Many people blame their weakness, fat gain, and sluggishness on “just getting older.” But it is largely due to the decrease in muscle and its effects on the body.
And that is reversible.
This muscle loss with age has a medical term: sarcopenia. There is growing evidence linking sarcopenia with:1,2,3,4
- Functional disability
- Glucose intolerance
- Decreased physical activity
- Oxidative stress
- Loss of normal hormone production
Most importantly, sarcopenia causes weakness. This leads to the loss of the capacity to perform activities of daily living. It is a major cause of having to go to a nursing home.
And it is the biggest cause of falls in elders. I believe sarcopenia is the root cause of more fractures in men than osteoporosis.
But muscle loss is NOT inevitable. Your age doesn’t have to dictate your health. We have proven that even elderly nursing home residents can restore their youthful muscle mass. You can build back 100% of your muscle with the right techniques.
For 20 years, I have observed and measured muscle’s youth-preserving effects. Now I have more supporting evidence. An ongoing Finnish study called the Evergreen Project is currently studying the effects of muscle on the aging process. Men and women between the ages of 65 and 94 are participating in the study.
The study is proving wide-ranging benefits that go hand in hand with muscle building. Results show that the participants with the most muscle are experiencing better mental function, fewer chronic illnesses, and longer life spans.5
Rebuild muscles to keep doing the activities you love
When I see that a new patient is suffering from muscle loss, I immediately put them on a simple muscle-building plan. And you can use this same plan easily at home. This protocol will help you build back the muscle of your youth.
- Give your muscles what they crave. You can’t build muscle if you don’t give it the nourishment it needs. And first on the list is protein. An important study from Tufts University also directly links our modern lack of protein with the rise of sarcopenia – the frailty that is associated with modern old age. The researchers showed that older people who consumed low levels of protein lost muscle mass in just eight weeks. But the opposite happened when they increased their protein consumption.6 The best sources of muscle-building protein come from animals. I always recommend eating whole foods, like pastured beef, lamb, chicken, and other properly raised organic foods, as well as wild-caught fish.
- Supplement with L-arginine. An important supplement for muscle building is the essential amino acid L-arginine. One double-blinded study measured the change in muscle strength and lean muscle mass in men taking L-arginine. One double-blind study measured the change in muscle strength and lean muscle mass in men taking L-arginine.7 Twenty-two men on a strength-training program took either the L-arginine supplement or a placebo. Those taking arginine showed a significant increase in muscle strength and lean muscle mass after only five weeks. Take 500 mg to 1 g of L-arginine a day to support your muscle growth.
- Work out your biggest muscle. Of course, exercise is key to preserving muscle. But I don’t want you to go to the gym and lift weights. Yes, that will build some muscle, but it won’t address the consequences of age-related sarcopenia. Your upper extremities only contain about 15% of your body’s muscle mass. You can increase their size by 200%, and I will barely be able to measure a difference in your body’s total muscle mass. To affect this number, you must go where the big muscles are. I’m talking about your quadriceps on the front of your thighs. Here’s one of my favorite quad-builders:
- Start with your body crouched, feet together, arms extended down, head straight and level.
- From this position, quickly straighten your legs and jump upward as high as you can into the air.
- Once you have landed, quickly return to your original starting position, taking care not to lose your balance throughout the exercise.
It will take you a few sessions to build up your stamina. Start slowly. If you’re a beginner or have trouble with your knees, you can take out the jump and just push yourself up on your toes.
Take plenty of time to build up your strength, endurance, and balance gradually. Rest and recover between sets. At first, you’ll have to take longer breaks, but they’ll get shorter as you rebuild your natural strength.
To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD, CNS
1. Kamel H. “Sarcopenia and aging.” Nutr Rev. 2003 May; 61(5 Pt 1): 157-167.
2. Gonzalez A, et al. “The critical role of oxidative stress in sarcopenic obesity.” Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2021; 2021: 4493817.
3. Trierweiler H, et al. “Sarcopenia: a chronic complication of type 2 diabetes mellitus.” Diabetol Metab Syndr. 2018; 10: 25.
4. Priego T, et al. “Role of hormones in sarcopenia.” Vitam Horm. 2021;115:535-570.
5. Fozard J, et al. “Epidemiologists try many ways to show that physical activity is good for seniors’ health and longevity. Exp Aging Res. 1999;25: 175-182.
6. Fielding RA. “Protein nutrition mediates lean body mass homeostasis in the aging warfighter.” J Nutr. 2013 Nov;143(11):1857-1861.
7. Pahlavani N, et al. “The effect of l-arginine supplementation on body composition and performance in male athletes: a double-blinded randomized clinical trial.” January 2017. Eur J Clin Nutr. 71(4).