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5 Daily Habits that Keep Your Muscles Strong

These activities will build muscle and prevent muscle loss and muscle atrophy even if you've never lifted weights in your life.

Simple steps to build muscles

Having strong muscles doesn’t just make you look and feel good. Getting your muscles in shape will improve nearly every aspect of your life. Building muscle is good for your heart, your joints, and your mind. And it doesn’t take hours of hefting heavy weights or loading up on protein powder to do it. Here are simple steps you can take every day to keep your muscles strong. (Pay extra close attention if you’re diabetic- strength training can be your best friend for managing diabetes.)

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Lift regularly

When it comes to rejuvenating muscles, resistance training is key. Although many adults exercise, a 2016 survey by AARP and Abbott found that 57 percent preferred cardio, while only 24 percent lift weights. “Evidence has really shown that doing those exercises can help you maintain your muscle,” says Tiffany Dewitt, a registered dietitian.

Lift weights you can heft between eight and 12 times; once you can lift a weight more than 12 times for a particular move, increase the amount. Focus on your entire bodythink arms, chest, back, legs, and abdominals, and don’t rule out strength-building classes like yoga and Pilates. (Don’t want to lift? Here are ways to get stronger arms without having to lift weights.)

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Double up on protein

In the AARP survey, 62 percent of adults said they thought they got enough protein, and 70 percent reported increasing their intake of high-protein foods to minimize their risk of muscle loss. But interestingly, only 17 percent said they knew how much protein they needed. So what’s best for adults? A minimum of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of weight (or for a 150-pound person, that’s 54 grams), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture; if you don’t want to do the math, use the organization’s online calculator to figure out your proteins needs along with other nutrients.

But don’t get too caught up with numbers. The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends concentrating on eating protein-rich foods rather than focusing on a particular amount of protein. Dewitt suggests speaking with your doctor about protein intake and goals.

omelette with spinach and cheese in a pan on the concrete background top viewSunny Forest/Shutterstock

Include protein in all three meals

Instead of cramming in your protein requirements with a steak at dinner, aim to balance your protein intake throughout the day. One University of Texas study published in 2014 in the Journal of Nutrition found a 25 percent increase in muscle protein synthesis when protein intake was divided evenly into 30-gram servings for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as opposed to when it was doled out randomly with an 11-gram serving at breakfast, 16 grams at lunch, and 63 grams at dinner.

So how much food equals 30 grams of protein? Think of an omelet with feta cheese, for example, or a serving of meat or poultry (roughly the size of a cellphone). Here are some more ways get more protein at breakfast and build a high-protein lunch.

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Try a pomegranate

Chockfull of health benefits, pomegranates may also help preserve your muscle loss. Pomegranates are particularly rich in a molecule called ellagic acid (raspberries are another good source). In the gut, ellagic acid is transformed by microbes into a substance called urolithin A; a study published in Nature Medicine in 2019 found that urolithin A enables muscle cells to protect themselves against the dysfunctional mitochondria associated with age.

woman with head out of car window soaking up the sunshineAdam Hester/Getty Images

Get some sun

A little extra sunshine is good for both your body and mind. Research suggests that vitamin D—which humans mostly obtain through exposure to sunlight—can improve conditions like muscle weakness. Alternatively, studies have found that vitamin D deficiencies can lead to muscle wasting. Getting a little morning sun—no more than 15 minutes without sunscreen—can fire up the vitamin D-making machinery in your body.

Next up, five hidden muscles that can cause pain.

Sources
  • Tiffany Dewitt, a registered dietitian with Abbott Nutrition
  • AARP: “AARP and Abbott Survey Finds Half of Adults 50-Plus Wish They Had More Strength and Energy to Enjoy Daily Activities”
  • Harvard Health: “How much protein do you need every day?”
  • USDA: "DRI Calculator for Healthcare Professionals"
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans”
  • The Journal of Nutrition: “Dietary Protein Distribution Positively Influences 24-h Muscle Protein Synthesis in Healthy Adults”
  • Nature Metabolism: “The mitophagy activator urolithin A is safe and induces a molecular signature of improved mitochondrial and cellular health in humans”
  • European Journal of Paediatric Neurology: “Muscle pain and mild proximal weakness can be due to vitamin D deficiency”