Lifting heavy weights for an hour twice a week will do the trick.
Randall Moore, MD, Psychiatry, explains the process.
“As people in the Western world age—especially in America, they lose muscle mass because they’re not active enough. By the time Americans are 70 to 75 years old, they’ve lost 20 to 25 percent of their muscle mass,” Dr. Moore says.
“Next to your brain, your muscle is your most metabolically active tissue. So as your muscle mass declines,” Dr. Moore explains, “your metabolic rate goes down. Even if you eat the same amount of food, your body fat is going to go up. It’s an inevitable calculus.”
But there’s a way to prevent that unavoidable decline: The solution is to lift weights. Heavy weights. Slowly and carefully.
Strength training “increases your resting metabolic rate [the amount of calories you burn while at rest], and you’re going to burn extra calories for the next 48 hours just from revving up your muscles. As you build muscle, you’re burning extra calories all the time,” notes Dr. Moore.
“The training-induced increase in your resting metabolic rate will burn a pound of fat in a month. You’ll be burning calories while you’re exercising—and then you burn extra calories because your metabolic rate’s increased. Just lying around you’re burning extra calories that burn off a pound a month,” Dr. Moore explains.
To elaborate: While strength training, if you work your muscles to the point of muscle fatigue, you’ll be sore the following day. Your muscles are sore because the muscle fibers were broken down in the weight lifting process; your body’s natural repair process (the soreness) is in itself metabolic (that is, calorie burning).
In other words, you’re burning calories to repair your muscles after you work them. So, after lifting heavy weights, you burn calories, for example, even when sleeping.
“The main thing about building muscles,” Dr. Moore notes “is that it increases your resting metabolic rate. Your body is working for you when you’re not even moving. And that’s a good deal.”
To increase your resting metabolic rate and build muscle, Dr. Moore recommends the following weight-lifting plan:
- 60 minutes of weight training, two times a week
- Using heavy weights, complete 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions to the point of muscle fatigue
- Beginners may start with 1 set of each exercise
- If you can do 12-15 repetitions, you need heavier weights
- Focus on multiple-muscle group exercises (not isolation exercises)
- Bench press
- Military press
- Biceps curls
- Lat pulls
- Lift slowly and carefully
- Wear a weight belt, cinched tightly (to protect your spine), and gloves (to protect your hands)
- Get a doctor’s clearance if you have an underlying medical condition or if you’re 40 or older
“The point is not that everybody needs to be a body builder,” says Dr. Moore, “but that you should hold on to the muscle you had when you were 18 years old. How can you be healthy or functional if you lose 25 percent of your muscles?”