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Tone Your Muscle to Preserve Your Mind

Tone Your Muscle to Preserve Your Mind

Gaining muscle is more important to your health than losing pounds.

Lindsey Vonn, the Olympic skier, challenged a flock of celebs at the 2013 Met Gala, saying they were half her weight but skinny fat, pointing out they lived on Diet Coke and lettuce, and lacked muscle. “Strong is beautiful,” she rightly insisted.

Skinny fat can happen if you’re not overweight but lose muscle mass and add flab, so your body’s healthy proportion of muscle to fat flips. While it can happen at any age, it is a heightened risk for older folks. All of us lose muscle mass as we age, if we don’t take steps to preserve muscle tone with resistance exercise and maintain a healthy weight.

A new study in the journal Clinical Interventions in Aging reports that for folks over age 65, losing muscle mass and replacing it with high fat mass—even if they’re not overweight—is a slippery slope to dementia and Alzheimer’s. In fact, being thin and flabby is more damaging to cognitive abilities, including memory, speed of processing and decision-making, than being obese with muscle strength. (However, being greatly overweight and flabby is a double whammy.)

The smartest way to avoid muscle tone loss—at any age—is strength-building exercises for 20 to 30 minutes two to three times a week using stretch bands or hand weights, and aerobic exercise five days a week. Also essential: A diet with heart-healthy plant proteins, lean animal protein from salmon and skinless poultry (studies show older folks should increase protein intake), and lots of water to keep you hydrated and your muscles supple.

Medically reviewed in December 2019.

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