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Q: I am a female in my mid fifties-50s. I have lost a lot of muscle mass and would like to rebuild lost muscle mass. What is the best way to rebuild your muscle and is it even possible at my age? If that is possible at my age, what is the best method?

A: As women age they typically experience changes such as slower metabolism, hormonal fluctuations, increased body fat and decreased bone density and muscle mass. While these factors make it more difficult to build muscle, it is possible for women to build muscle well after 50 years of age. In fact, strength-training programs for older women have been shown to decrease injuries and improve general quality of life.

Muscle must be challenged in order to change and build, so you should strength-train with a weight that fatigues the muscle in 6 to 12 repetitions. Most current recommendations include 1 to 3 sets of 6 to 12 repetitions depending on fitness level. You will know the weight is heavy enough if when you complete the set of repetitions you cannot do any more; if you get to 12 and can do 3 more, your weight is too light and you should increase it. Perform that check often as you get stronger to ensure you keep gaining muscle mass. You should lift weights at least two to three times per week with two days rest in-between lifting sessions. Be sure to include exercises for each major muscle group, including chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, legs, calves and core. With consistency and the right amount of weight, women can see benefits in as little as 20 minutes per day.

Participating in a regular strength-training program and lifting heavy enough weight will result in muscle fiber increase, which means you will be using more energy–and that leads to a faster metabolism! Strength training is the best way for women to combat the metabolic decrease and associated increased body fat that come with aging. Finally, being strong and in control of your body will lead to an amazing sense of confidence and accomplishment. Consider professional advice to get started by meeting with an exercise physiologist to get on a program that ensures proper form and a well-rounded routine.

Rebecca Feist, MA, ACSM-RCEP Operations Director, Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center, Washington Health System

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