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Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham tell us that older people need to work out more often to maintain muscle mass. The only solution for older people is regular, low-impact exercise. Fortunately, there are a variety of routines.

The Older You Get, The More You Need to Work Out to Maintain Muscle Mass

Recruiting one group of volunteers aged 20 to 35 and a second group of volunteers aged 60 to 70, the University of Alabama scientists had both groups build muscles by doing leg presses, squats, and knee extensions three times a week for four months. Then the researchers set out to determine how little exercise would still be enough to keep the newly formed muscles from shrinking.
  • The volunteers in their 20's and 30's only needed to exercise once a week to continue gaining muscle and once every three weeks to maintain it.
  • The volunteers in their 60's lost muscle mass if they continued to exercise once a week. Exercising two or three times a week is necessary to keep muscle mass from shrinking.
The problem is, as any adult in his or her 60's can tell you, that older people are more prone to joint injuries that make exercise impossible for weeks or months at a time. When older people do not exercise for two weeks or more, shrinkage of muscles is almost guaranteed, further increasing the risk of injuries.

The only solution for older people is regular, low-impact exercise. Fortunately, there are a variety of routines that will accomplish muscle maintenance. Here are the top ten.

1. Walking

Just about every exercise expert will warn that walking is not "good" exercise because it lacks a resistance component for strengthening muscle mass. By the time you are in your 60's, however, chances are you have picked enough fat mass that walking is great resistance exercise for your legs. The important thing is to make sure that walking does not become boring. Vary your routine by taking different routes, finding trails that go up and down, and walking at different times of day. A treadmill is lower-impact than walking outside, assuming you don't fall off it.

2. Swimming

Most Americans learn to swim at a very early age, as young as 18 months, and usually by the age of 10. Over the years, however, it is possible to forget how to do some of the strokes. A few remedial swimming lessons may make swimming safer and a lot more fun.

Swimming is unusually safe for the joints. There are two ways to make swimming a better weight-loss (or lower weight-gain) exercise. One is to swim in colder water. The best way to do this is to continue swimming in an outdoor pool as long as possible through the fall and even into the winter, making sure you have a way to stay warm once you get out of the water.

Another way to make swimming a weight loss exercise is to vary your pace in intervals. Swim for 30 minutes, doing one lap at a slow pace and the next lap at a slow pace, alternating throughout your routine, finishing on a slow lap.

3. Body weight exercise

It is not necessary to go to the gym or to buy free weights to weight training. You can use your body's weight as the weight you use for muscle building. If you can't get down in the floor to do a pushup, try pushing yourself off your kitchen counter or from a steady and sturdy chair. Work up your upper body strength until you can do pushups or Pilates without undue wear and tear.
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