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How to Gain Muscle Mass After 50

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 01, 2021

Both men and women start losing muscle mass as they age. Most people see their muscle mass diminish around 3% to 5% per decade after turning 30. Unfortunately, as your muscle mass diminishes, you also become more prone to breaking a bone if you fall. 

That risk increases for people diagnosed with sarcopenia. This is a syndrome that causes a gradual loss of your bone and muscle.

Another reason it gets more challenging for you to hold onto your muscle mass after 50 is anabolic resistance. This is when your skeletal muscle gradually loses the ability to make (synthesize) protein. Protein synthesis enables you to build up strength when you exercise. As that ability lessens, it gets that much harder for you to build and maintain muscle mass.

However, none of this means that you can’t boost your overall muscle mass if you’re over 50. Before you try out a new exercise routine, talk with your doctor about options you’re considering.

Gaining Muscle Mass With Endurance Exercise

Slow-twitch muscles. Most people don’t connect endurance exercises like aerobics with muscle gain. Endurance exercises work slow-twitch muscle fibers through numerous repetitions. Your slow-twitch fibers can stay contracted for long periods. Continuous endurance training helps them become more efficient and stronger.

Building slow-twitch muscle fibers can help you when performing other endurance exercises. Examples of these might include walking briskly, running, biking, or stair climbing. Start slowly when you begin adding endurance exercise into your efforts to build muscle when you’re older. 

Gaining Muscle Mass by Lifting Weights

Weight training. Resistance exercise like weight training is one of the best ways of reversing the loss of muscle mass as you age. It benefits both men and women. Both groups typically lose muscle mass because levels of testosterone or estrogen go down as you age. 

Increase the amount of muscle on your frame by making strength training part of your exercise around 2 to 3 times per week. In addition to increasing muscle mass, resistance exercise provides the following benefits: ‌ 

  • Improves flexibility‌
  • Helps people with diabetes with glycemic control‌ (blood sugar levels)
  • Reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease‌
  • Keeps you active and helps you avoid obesity‌
  • Improves back strength and relieves stress on your spine‌  

Get advice. Building muscle mass when you’re over 50 can be difficult. It’s a good idea to check with your doctor and a fitness trainer before you start any endurance training. You want to make sure that your form is correct and that you’re not lifting more weight than you can handle. Professional advice will help you avoid injury. 

Gaining Muscle Mass with Endurance Bands

Resistance bands. Endurance or resistance bands are another excellent way of improving your overall muscle mass. They’re a great option for people who may not like working with weights. 

Any kind of strength training, whether with bands or weights, creates tears in your muscle. Muscle builds when your body works to repair those injuries. This typically takes around 72 hours after exercising.

You can find various levels of resistance bands shaped like a rubber band or a tube. Resistance bands are an inexpensive way for people over 50 to start fighting the effects of aging by building up their muscle mass.

Additional Tips on Gaining Muscle Mass

Joint health. Movements like squats, hip hinges, lunges, and pushups work larger groups of muscles while engaging your joints. They are particularly useful for people over the age of 50. Are you using weights or resistance bands? Try increasing the length of time that you perform an exercise or stretch the bands.

Follow these tips to avoid injury and have success with your strength training:‌  

  • Do a warmup before each exercise session and a cool down after.‌
  • Always use proper form during an exercise, whether you’re squatting, lifting a barbell, or doing a sit-up.‌
  • Pay attention to your tempo as you go through each movement, making sure that you are in complete control.‌
  • Focus on your breathing, exhaling as you push or pull, and inhaling on the return movement.‌
  • Gradually increase the amount of weight you’re lifting or your resistance band level as you get stronger so that you continue to challenge yourself.‌
  • Give your muscles enough time to rest between exercise sessions so that your body has time to repair itself and increase in mass‌  

Supplements. Be careful about turning to testosterone supplements or taking anything that promises to help you build muscle mass. You should speak with a physician about possible side effects. Change up your exercise routine often to challenge your body. This will allow you to continue building your muscle mass.

Show Sources

SOURCES:‌

Clinical Cases in Mineral and Bone Metabolism: “Clinical definition of sarcopenia.”‌

Harvard Health Publishing: “Preserve your muscle mass,” “Push past your resistance to strength training,” “7 tips for a safe and successful strength training program.”‌

Heart.org: “Endurance Exercise (Aerobic).” 

The Journal of Physiology: “Synchronous deficits in cumulative muscle protein synthesis and ribosomal biogenesis underlie age‐related anabolic resistance to exercise in humans.”‌

OpenStaxCollege: “Exercise and Muscle Performance.”‌

SDSU Extension: “Strength Training for Older Adults.”‌

University of Minnesota: “Making Muscle after Menopause.”

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