First, the not-so-great news: Starting at around age 30, you naturally begin losing muscle. In fact, adults lose 3 to 8 percent of their lean muscle mass per decade. And by age 60, your muscle strength will deteriorate at a rate of 3 percent per year.
With less strength to muster, daily activities (such as carrying bags of groceries or mowing the lawn) become harder, if not seemingly impossible. Over time, your gait will change, too, and you’ll be more likely to become disabled.
The good news? Regular exercise not only helps you hold on to the muscle mass and strength you’ve got to maintain a high quality of life as you get older, but it can also help keep conditions like diabetes and heart disease at bay. Exercise can even increase your chances of living longer.
Don’t accept the loss of muscle mass and strength as a fact of life. It’s never too late to improve your strength. Here are four strength-training moves that can help add years to your life and life to your years, especially if you do them at least twice a week.
Clock Stopper: Squats
Squats help keep your hips, thighs and butt muscles strong so that you can continue to walk, run, and climb stairs easily – and avoid the frailty fast track.
To-do tactic: Standing in front of a chair with your feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart, extend your arms in front of you. Slowly bend your knees and sit down in the chair while counting to four, keeping your weight in your heels. Then stand up to the count of two while keeping your knees over your ankles and your back straight. Repeat 10 times, rest for a minute, then do a second set of 10.
Clock Stopper: Wall Push-Ups
Wall push-ups aren’t as hard to do as push-ups on the floor. But they still help strengthen your arms, shoulders and chest, which can come in handy any time you’re lifting something.
To-do tactic: While facing a wall, stand a little farther than arm’s length away and lean your body forward to place your palms at about shoulder height and shoulder-width apart. Keep your feet planted and do a push-up by bending your elbows and slowly lowering your body toward the wall as you count to four. Then push yourself off the wall by slowly straightening your arms, counting to four once more. Don’t lock your elbows. Repeat 10 times, rest for a minute, then do a second set of 10.
Clock Stopper: Calf Raises
Calf raises strengthen your calves and ankles, which makes walking more enjoyable. They also fortify your sense of balance and stability.
To-do tactic: While holding on to a chair or the kitchen counter for balance, slowly rise up on your toes as far as you can while counting to four and hold for two to four seconds. Then lower your heels to the floor while counting to four. Repeat 10 times and then rest for a minute before doing a second set of 10. To make this move more challenging, do calf raises on a stair or step, with your heels hanging off the edge.
Clock Stopper: Bicep Curls
Lifting a bag of groceries or a young child is a cinch when you’ve got strong biceps. This exercise can help bolster this major arm muscle.
To-do tactic: Stand or sit with dumbbells in each hand with your arms at your sides, palms facing your thighs. As you count to two, rotate your forearms and slowly bend your elbows while lifting the weights – your palms facing in toward your shoulders. Keep your elbows close to your side. Pause, then slowly lower your dumbbells back down to your thighs as you count to four, ending with your arms again at your sides. Repeat 10 times, rest for a minute, and then do another set of 10. When your weights become easier to lift, switch to heavier dumbbells.
Sources: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, BMC Geriatrics. Vol. 17, no. 44, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Journal of Nutrition. Vol. 145, no. 7, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Go4Life, National Institutes of Health, NIH News in Health, National Institutes of Health