Older Adults: How To Build Muscle Mass

As we advance in years, we’re less inclined to want to work out. It’s easy to believe that because we are older, we lack the energy or ability to keep our bodies in shape. But it actually becomes more important to build muscle mass when we’re older.

After 40, our bodies begin to decline. This is mainly due to sarcopenia, the loss of strength and muscular degeneration. We lose approximately one percent of our muscle mass per year. Once we hit 50, the rate of decline speeds up. The good news is that there are things we can do to get stronger, healthier, and build muscle mass.

Senior handicapped man exercising to build muscle mass

Nutrition to help build muscle mass

The first step towards building muscle mass is getting the proper nutrients in your diet. Without them, any exercise you do will use up vital energy reserves. Older adults tend to eat less so it’s important to ensure that what is eaten provides the body with the essential nutrients it needs.


Our bodies use protein to maintain and build muscle mass. The average adult should get 15 to 25 percent of their calories from protein. Try to incorporate fish, chicken, dairy or eggs into every meal. For vegetarian and vegan options, try black beans, lentils, chickpeas, spinach, broccoli, asparagus and kale.


Carbohydrates give us energy. Without them, the body begins to burn muscle and protein for energy. As too many carbs can cause us to gain and retain weight, try to eat slow-digesting carbs. Sweet potatoes, brown rice, whole grains, bananas, oranges and blueberries are all good.


Drinking lots of water throughout the day is another way to help build muscle mass. Simple H2O allows the body to absorb and metabolize all those essential nutrients from food.

Exercise to build muscle mass

As older adults, our approach to exercise has to change. It’s not physically possible to work out the same way you may have done in your youth. But you don’t have to pump heavy weights to build muscle mass. Lifting light weights slowly can be just as effective. Doing it at a slower pace makes the muscles work harder.

Although cardio and aerobic exercise are not designed to build muscle mass, they will improve blood flow. Getting more oxygen to your muscles will help increase endurance. It doesn’t have to be vigorous exercise. Try some low-impact cardio like swimming or walking. Yoga is another great way to keep the body toned and healthy.

Don’t overdo it

As we age, exercising everyday is not always possible and may actually do more harm than good. Doing exercises three times a week with rests day in between will help. If you are not used to it, start slowly with short exercise sessions. You can gradually increase the amount you do as your stamina levels improve. If you start feeling lightheaded or dizzy, stop and take deep breaths. Don’t push your body further than it wants to go.

At Fairview Rehab & Nursing Home in Queens, NY, we are dedicated to helping our residents build muscle mass and stay physically healthy. Through exercise programs, physical therapy, and the right diet, our experienced staff tailor everything to each individual resident to suit their needs.

This article contains informational and educational materials and does not replace health or medical advice. For questions or concerns regarding your medical condition or health objectives, speak to a qualified physician or healthcare provider.