Muscle growth doesn't mean becoming a hulk - it's an important way to protect your bones and joints, and stay healthy as you age.
It’s a sobering fact that past the age of 25 you lose one per cent of muscle strength with every year that passes. “You may not want to do the maths, but basically it’s like trying to climb a downward escalator,” says physiotherapist Sammy Margo. “Each year you’ve got to keep working harder to stay at the top.”
Doing resistance exercises to tone up isn’t just about looking better and getting slimmer (although we’ll admit that is an added bonus), it helps you move better, gives you more energy and helps with your balance – some studies even suggest it could help you live longer.
“Gaining and maintaining muscle strength is crucial to so many aspects of your overall health and wellbeing,” explains Sammy. “The stronger your muscles, the stronger your bones will be too – and that lowers your risk of osteoporosis. You also protect your joints from arthritis and reduce your risk of a potentially dangerous fall.”
We also know that because muscle is “metabolically active”, the more you have, the more calories you burn – even when you’re resting – and that has pay offs in preventing weight-related conditions like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
“The latest research even shows that stronger muscles lower your risk of dementia,” says Dr Marilyn Glenville, author of Natural Solutions for Dementia and Alzheimer’s (£12.77, Lifestyle Press). “Thirty minutes of exercise three times a week could help to improve your memory and processing speed in just four weeks – but including strength training in your schedule has more impact than just doing aerobics,” she says.
“It’s thought the effects are due to the fact that building muscle could help to increase the volume of your hippocampus (the part of your brain that deals with long-term memories) by two per cent. This matters a lot because this is the part of the brain that shrinks as a symptom of Alzheimer’s, and the two per cent increase is like reversing the equivalent of one or two years’ shrinkage.”
The good news is that you can get stronger muscles with a few simple moves...
Best bum exercises
Don’t put up with a saggy bottom – exercising this part of you doesn’t just make it look better in your jeans. “Firm buttock muscles are essential for preventing back, hip, knee and foot problems,” says Sammy. Swimming on your front, holding a float and kicking your legs behind you is a good way to work your buttocks. Or try lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart, underneath your knees. Raise your hips to create a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. As you come up, tighten your tummy and bottom. Lower yourself gently to the starting position and repeat eight to ten times.
Stronger shoulder muscles
Strengthen the muscles between your shoulder blades with the superman exercise. Start on all fours, with your tummy held in to support your back. Then lift one leg out straight behind you at the same time as stretching the opposite arm out in front of you. Lower back down slowly then repeat on the other side. “This will stop you from slumping and that prevents misalignment and back and neck problems,” says Sammy. Do ten on each side.
Tone your core
Strengthening your core muscles is good for preventing back pain and maintaining balance to prevent falls. “Joining a Pilates class is a good way to do this,” says Sammy. “Or practise modified plank exercises at home.” Lie on your stomach, resting on your forearms with your elbows in line with your shoulders, lift your hips off the floor, keeping your tummy muscles tight. Your knees should be on the floor and your body should be in a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. The key is to keep your tummy and pelvic floor sucked in and upwards to help protect your back. Repeat eight to ten times.
Strengthen your thighs
Every time you stand up from sitting down – do it ten times, says Sammy. “It will take no time to do but the pay-offs to your leg muscles, particularly your thigh muscles, will be great.” Make sure you plant your feet firmly on the floor and squeeze your legs and bottom muscles to help you stand up. Remember to do this – with no hands - when standing from the loo, too – it the perfect height to be rising from.
The muscle-building diet
Muscles need protein – but don’t make the common mistake of thinking that means they don’t need carbs, says nutritionist Judy Watson. “A low carbohydrate diet could cause your muscle to break down because you're not providing your body with enough energy - so you need some carbohydrate, but not too much. The perfect ratio would be two eggs with one slice of bread or two ramekins of turkey and vegetable stir-fry with one ramekin of rice.
“Research has shown that eating turkey three or four times a week increases muscle mass more than other forms of protein.”
Try this: If you struggle to get enough protein in your diet, or like 59 per cent of us, you’re not sure if you’re getting enough, you could try a nutritional shake such as Meritene Strength and Vitality Shake (£6.99/seven servings) which provides 16g of protein as well a wide range of nutrients including B vitamins and iron to help maintain your energy levels.
- By Karen Evennett
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