In a most outrageous display of use-it-or-lose it grit, Yuichiro Miura endured diabetes, three heart surgeries, and a shattered pelvis to summit Mount Everest in 2013. Oh, by the way, he was 80 years old. He continued to train for a second Everest go-round in 2019 by preparing to summit Mount Aconcagua (at age 86), the largest peak in South America, to which his doctor replied something to the effect of, “Okay Yuichiro. Enough already.”

We all can’t be Yuichiros, but we can maintain the ability to achieve our own personal strength-training goals at any age. For some that means bench-pressing 200lbs and for others, lifting a kayak onto the roof of a car, or setting a bag of groceries on the counter.

Building and maintaining strength in muscles and bones requires a combination of physical activity and nutrition. Starting young gives you the advantage of laying the foundation for optimum strength and less trauma as your body ages. But for those who have been enlightened later in life (Happy 40th Birthday), there are plenty of exercise and lifestyle options for slowing down bone and muscle deterioration and working toward your Everest.

Just keep swimming

Diana Nyad did. At 63 years old, she swam from Cuba to Florida in 53 hours despite asthma attacks, hypothermia, bad weather, dehydration and jellyfish stings. Extreme, yes, but think how reachable your goals can be in comparison.

The basics of strength-building compels me to use a double negative. Don’t NOT do something, anything…walk, run, bicycle, swim, garden, do yoga, walk the dog, and so on. If you have physical limitations, consult a professional for the best way to introduce movement into your lifestyle. Unused muscles lose their elasticity and strength which is harder to regain as your body ages. It can lead to increased risk of fractures, muscle wasting (sarcopenia) and lost functionality.

There are seven types of strength training (Types of Strength Training) from Agile Strength, necessary for the activities of daily life like lifting and carrying things in multiple directions to Endurance Strength needed to maintain muscle movement for long periods such as running a marathon to Maximum Strength that requires functioning at a high level of neuromuscular efficiency and coordination. Whatever end-result you are looking for, there are exercises and activities that can be modified fit your needs.  

Need motivation? Athletes in training set escalating goals for building muscle or toning their bodies. There’s no reason anyone can’t do the same for any activity. Here are some guidelines:

  • Be specific about your goal. (I want to tone my abdomen; I want to walk 3 miles per day; I want to do a triathlon.)
  • Make sure your goal is realistic physically and time-wise. Don’t set yourself up for failure.
  • Your progress must be measurable to be motivating.
  • Set a deadline so procrastination is not an issue.

The Ox, the Oak, and the Ant

All of the above are symbols of strength. They didn’t get that way eating French fries. They take in only what they need to live, grow, or perform. Two much or too little and the tree decays, the ox stops plowing, and the ant drops that piece of bread it’s carrying (100 times its body weight) thereby cheesing off the whole colony. Seriously, though, building strength requires a nutritious diet rich in lean protein, complex carbs, and healthy fat among other nutrients.

Muscle tissue is mostly comprised of the macronutrient we know as protein. In order to build and repair muscle, you must add protein into your diet to match your unique physical needs. According to the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the average “active” person should take in 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass; for the sedentary person, it drops to 0.8 grams per kilogram of body mass.

Americans, in general, take in a lot of protein, which isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially if it is of the not-so-lean variety like red meats and high fat dairy. Too much protein can lead to weight gain, heart disease, kidney problems and increased risk of cancer. Here are just some of the many healthy and tasty alternatives:

  • Meat: Okay, but keep it lean in fat content and portions.
  • Poultry: Any type of poultry (skinless is best) is a good choice for the protein part of your plate.
  • Plain yogurt: This creamy, gut-soothing, and versatile snack is high in calcium and protein. Get over the yawn factor, by adding nuts or berries for some extra energy.
  • Eggs: Eggs contain about 6 grams of protein and are low-carb and low-calorie. They make a perfectly respectable addition to a healthy diet as long as you monitor the cholesterol.
  • Almonds/Almond Butter: These are great little protein-packers to pick on for a snack or spread on whole grain bread.

Carbohydrates are what fuel your muscles and your workouts. Your body needs a store of glycogen generated from carbs to supply energy and also rebuild muscle. Here are some of the best carbs for muscle health and growth.

  • Fruit: These simple carbs have natural sugars, are easy to digest, and contain a whole lot of bonus vitamins to serve your body in many different ways
  • Brown rice/quinoa/farro: These nutritious grains are also great sources of fiber, B vitamins, and minerals.
  • Sweet potatoes: These complex carbs keep you full and give you sustained energy throughout your activity or workout. They are also rich in Vitamin A, important for bone development, as well as potassium to balance the fluids in your body.
  • Veggies: Leafy greens like kale, spinach, and lettuce are vital to the delivery of oxygen to the muscles, which, in turn, is essential for exercise, muscle recovery, and strength.

Fats (the good kind) are no longer public enemy number one. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats actually increase good cholesterol, which in turn, increases growth hormone production, which then produces more amino acids, the foundation of the protein essential for building muscle. Fats help the body absorb vitamins A, D, and E and are also critical in boosting and maintaining energy and endurance. Here are some excellent sources of fat.

  • Fish/fish oil – Fatty cold water fish like salmon are high in Omega 3s and protein.
  • Nuts: Almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, pine nuts, and walnuts are all great choices to incorporate in salads, snacks, yogurt. Nut butters work as well.
  • Seeds: Chia seeds, ground flaxseeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds. All provide healthy fats and some fiber.
  • Avocados: In addition to being a prime source of healthy fats, avocados also provide protein and vitamins C, E, and K, and the B vitamins.

While there are many more factors that go into building and strengthening our muscles, the key take-away is that the more active we are, the stronger we get, ensuring a better quality of life for a longer time.

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