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Maintaining Muscle

“It’s been a long day.”

“I don’t have the time.”

“My planets aren’t aligned right today.”

Do you have a list of excuses you use when thinking about going for a walk or to the gym? It’s time to stop making excuses and start becoming more active. Research has shown that exercise is essential to living a more active lifestyle and maintaining independence.

Age and muscle loss
Charlotte Peterson, associate dean for research in the College of Health Sciences at the University of Kentucky, is heading a new study focusing on the loss of muscle mass that occurs as people age.

Around the age of 40, muscle mass starts to decrease, even if the person does stay active, she says. Older people who train as hard as a 25-year-old will never be as fit, but don’t let that discourage you from becoming active.

“I wish there was a fountain of youth, but exercise is so important,” says Peterson. “It’s a lifestyle thing.”

Her study has shown that as a person ages, it is harder to keep muscle quality and mass. Initial research shows that the stem cells in muscles that help repair and make them bigger start to turn into fat cells and participate in the healing process less efficiently. Peterson is trying to find what causes the stem cells to start changing and what prevents them from doing their job.

“It is a very slippery slope because once you lose muscle mass, it is very difficult to gain it back,” she says.

Little changes, big outcome
One thing you can do to prevent a loss of muscle mass, first and foremost, she says, is by staying active.

Staying active does not have to include a complicated trip to the gym, however. Try going for a walk around the block or taking the stairs instead of an elevator if you are going up to the second or third floor. Parking in the back of the parking lot or getting off the bus at the stop before yours are simple ways to add a few more steps to your day. Little changes can make a big difference.

Lifting weights is not just for bodybuilders anymore. Strength training is a key part of maintaining muscle mass and is not as intimidating as it sounds. Lifting light weights a few times a week can help prevent a loss of muscle mass, and also can help maintain bone mass. Try exercising with weights two or three times a week, focusing on the major muscle groups.

Antioxidant advantage
Another important part of staying healthy is eating right. Free radicals in your body, caused by environmental factors like cigarette smoke, pollution, and ultraviolet radiation, can damage your cells. This is where antioxidants come into play. They neutralize the free radicals and can help prevent cell damage.
Antioxidants can be found in many foods and supplements. Among them are vitamin C, beta carotene, and vitamin E.

“It’s about changing people’s mindset,” says Peterson. “Change will not happen overnight, but making small modifications to your lifestyle and diet can help you maintain your independence longer.”


FOODS RICH IN ANTIOXIDANTS

• blueberries
• pomegranate
• broccoli
• sweet potatoes
• cantaloupe
• apricots
• leafy, green vegetables

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