Staying Fit and Strong as You Age

I’m a nationally ranked powerlifter and last week I had my 59th birthday.  I can honestly say that I’m stronger now than I was in my 20s.  People often ask me how my strength keeps improving as the years add up?  The answer to this question is having a right mental attitude about aging, doing regular strength training exercise, and eating properly.  Let me explain each of these items below.

The Right Mental Attitude

There is a difference between aging and getting old.  Everyone is going to age, but not everyone has to get old.  Getting old is more of an attitude than anything else.  You are as old or as young as you think you are, and this has nothing to do with number of years.  I’ve seen people in their 40s complain of getting old, and I’ve seen people in their 70s and 80s who look and act like they were in their 30s. While recently working out, getting ready for a national powerlifting competition someone approached me and said “just wait till you turn 40, you won’t be able to lift like that anymore”, to which I replied “age is just a number my friend, I’ve got you by 18 years”.

According to the Cambridge dictionary, age is the period of time someone has been alive or something has existed.  This definition of age says nothing about declining health over time.  So, where does the idea of getting weaker with age come from?  It comes from statistics.  We hear and read about the statistics of the aging process all the time but that doesn’t mean you have to believe them.  What you believe about yourself and about aging is more powerful than any statistic.  My personal definition of age is,”it is only a measure of my life experiences and nothing else”.

Regular Strength Training

I’ve been touting the benefits of strength training for over 30 years and now it’s being proven to be the best form of exercise you can do to stay fit and strong as you age.  Muscle loss associated with age is known as sacopenia and it can begin as early as age 30 and it accelerates with time.  Sacopenia, leads to a loss in strength, and a increase in frailty.  Strength training is the best form of exercise to combat muscle loss and in some causes even reverse it.  The good news is that it’s never too late to reverse muscle loss, studies have shown that people in their 90s gain muscle mass and improve their strength by participating in a regular strength training program.

 Listed below are some additional benefits of strength training from the Mayo Clinic.
  • Develop strong bones. By stressing your bones, strength training can increase bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Manage your weight. Strength training can help you manage or lose weight, and it can increase your metabolism to help you burn more calories.
  • Enhance your quality of life. Strength training may enhance your quality of life and improve your ability to do everyday activities. Building muscle also can contribute to better balance and may reduce your risk of falls. This can help you maintain independence as you age.
  • Manage chronic conditions. Strength training can reduce the signs and symptoms of many chronic conditions, such as arthritis, back pain, obesity, heart disease, depression and diabetes.
  • Sharpen your thinking skills. Some research suggests that regular strength training and aerobic exercise may help improve thinking and learning skills for older adults.

Strength training should be done 2 to 3 days each week in which you perform exercises that target all your major muscle groups.  I suggest you find a nationally accredited fitness professional to design a good strength training program for you.

Eating Properly

You can have the right mental attitude about aging, strength train regularly, and still have poor results if you don’t fuel your body properly.  While I won’t get into the macro-nutrients of carbohydrates, protein, and fat in this article I will explain the importance of getting enough high quality protein in your diet as you age.

Research has now revealed that your muscle plays a central role in your whole-body protein metabolism by serving as the principle reservoir for amino acids to maintain protein synthesis (growth and regeneration) in vital tissues and organs in the absence of consuming enough protein in your diet. In other words, if you don’t get enough protein in your diet, your body breaks down your muscle mass in order to make the necessary amino acids you need for survival.

Protein is a necessary part of every living cell in your body, and next to water it comprises the greatest portion of your body weight. Protein substances make up your muscles, ligaments, tendons, organs, glands, nails, hair, and many vital body fluids. Your body uses the protein you eat for the vital functions of survival first before it devotes any for muscle building and repair. Thus, if you are not consuming enough protein in your diet optimal muscle building and repair is impossible.which leads to a state of weakness and fatigue.

While 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight has been the old the normal recommendation for daily protein intake, new studies show that 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight may be more beneficial in building, maintaining, and reducing muscle loss especially as you age.. The goal of protein consumption should be to optimize muscle growth and repair and studies now reveal that consuming 25 to 30 grams of protein at each meal is necessary for this to take place.

Lean meat, poultry, fish, and dairy are the highest quality, and most bioavailable sources of protein. It takes consuming 4 to 5 ounces of meat, poultry, or fish at each meal to get the 25 to 30 grams of protein necessary to stimulate maximal muscle growth and repair and thus, keep your strength as you age.

Now that you know the importance of getting enough protein in your diet for your overall health, let’s delve into the benefits of eating properly before and after your workout sessions.  In order to workout at your best and see optimal results you need to eat the right balance of carbohydrates and protein both before and immediately after your exercise sessions.  The pre-workout meal provides the energy for you to exercise at maximum intensity, and the post-workout meal provides the nutrition your body needs for optimum rebuilding and recovery.


As a general rule, it’s best not to eat immediately before a workout because your stomach will be trying to digest the food you’ve eaten at the same time you’re exercising which may cause some feelings of nausea and GI discomfort.  Ideally, you should eat about 1 to 3 hours before your workout, depending on how your body tolerates food. It’s best to experiment and see what time frame is best for you.

You pre-workout meal needs to be a combination of carbohydrates for the energy to fuel your muscles, and protein in order for your body to make the right amino acids to rebuild and repair your muscles.  Here are some good suggestions for a pre-workout meal:

  • A peanut butter and banana sandwich
  • Yogurt with berries
  • Oatmeal with low-fat milk
  • An apple with peanut of almond butter
  • A handful of nuts and a piece of fruit


The goal of a post-workout meal is to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to start the recovery process.  Your body uses the stored carbohydrates (glycogen) as energy to fuel your workout, and those glycogen stores need to be replenished.  Also, your body wants to start rebuilding and repairing muscle tissue damage caused by your workout and it needs the proper amount of protein to perform this task.  Thus, immediately giving your body the nutrients it needs for exercise recovery is very important.

You need a carbohydrate source that your body can quickly convert into glycogen such as fruit combined with 21 to 30 grams of a high quality protein so your body can start to rebuild and repair muscle.  The body wants to start the recovery and rebuilding process immediately after you finish your workout.  Therefore, having a post-workout meal within 30 minutes of completing your exercise is best for optimal recovery.

Your body breaks down the protein you consume into tiny building blocks called amino acids and these amino acids are involved in almost every process that takes place in your body.  You need to have at least 21 grams of protein in your recovery meal because that is the threshold of where your body knows it has enough amino acids to start the process of muscle rebuilding and repair.  In short, if you don’t get enough protein in your post-workout meal, your body starts breaking down your muscle tissue to make the amino acids it needs for survival.

Here are some good suggestions for post-workout meals:

  • A whey protein shake with a medium size banana (make sure it contains 21 to 30 grams of protein)
  • 3 to 4 ounces of lean meat, fish, or poultry with a medium size piece of fruit
  • Yogurt mixed with whey protein powder and berries