As we get older, we tend to lose more muscle mass, especially in our arms and legs. When muscle is lost, fat and fibrous tissue will rush in to take its place, creating extra loose skin, leading to the development of the notorious “bat wings” under our arms. This is a common issue among women due to differences in the body’s fat storage distribution. While women tend to store fat in the arms, thighs, hips, and abdomen; men store excess fat solely in their abdominal region. The excess fat that develops under the arms causes many women to suffer from confidence issues, making them more reluctant to wear sleeveless tops.
While some loose skin is unavoidable due to our body’s natural aging process, researchers have found a common link between inactivity, poor nutrition, and the likelihood of developing decreased muscle mass.
Top Causes for Developing Flabby Arms
The primary cause of developing flabby arms is excessive weight gain, which may be aggravated by a lack of physical activity. The older we get, the more difficulty we’ll experience while moving around due to aching joints or arthritis, which may prompt us to live a more sedentary lifestyle. Research has found that a reduction in muscle mass has a negative effect on a person’s resting metabolism. The lower your resting metabolism, the easier it is to gain weight. As we move around less, the more muscle loss we will experience and the higher the likelihood of developing flabby arms.
While some muscle loss is normal due to the natural aging process, some of it can be prevented with frequent exercise. Researchers have found that those between the ages of 60 and 70 have lost 12 percent of their muscle mass, with those over 80 having lost 30 percent. The reduction of muscle mass can have some other serious health implications including an increase in the likelihood of developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and a higher probability of accidents and falls in seniors.
Hormones can also dictate where on your body you will accumulate excess fat: for instance, the arms, stomach, hips, thighs, and buttocks. Developing arm flab has been associated with a decline in sex hormones, particularly estrogen and testosterone. As women get older, their bodies will experience a drop in testosterone levels. Postmenopausal women also experience a reduction of estrogen, which has a direct effect on their metabolic rate. Having a lower metabolism decreases the body’s efficiency to convert excess starch and blood sugar into energy. Instead, the body stores them as fat, leading to weight gain. While menopause is a natural process of aging in women, the negative effects associated with it can be reduced with good nutrition and an active lifestyle.
Nutritional Tips for Retaining Muscle Mass
Eat More Calcium
As we get older, our bodies require more nutrients to stay healthy. Calcium is a key nutrient that’s especially important for postmenopausal women when their levels of estrogen plunge after menopause. The decline of this female hormone leads to the body having more difficulty absorbing calcium. An increase in calcium consumption, therefore, helps to prevent bone loss which can lead to painful conditions like osteoporosis. Statistics suggest that women over 50 have a 50 percent chance of experiencing a fracture-related injury. This risk can be reduced by incorporating more calcium into your diet.
Some good sources of calcium include dark leafy greens such as cooked kale, spinach, and collards. Eating just one cup of cooked collards will provide you with 268 milligrams of calcium, which is about 21 percent of your daily amount. Older adults are advised to consume 1,200 milligrams of calcium per day. This is easily achieved by eating a mixture of eggs, cheese, milk, yogurt, bread, cereals, seeds/nuts, beans, and vegetables. If you’re vegan, opt for plant-based milk such as oat milk, which contains around 120 milligrams of calcium per 8-ounce cup.
Include More Meat in your Diet
Another important dietary component is protein. Consuming more protein helps you retain more muscle mass and avoid muscle loss. Good sources of protein include eggs, dairy, beans, nuts, fish, chicken, and red meat. Try to stick to lean red meat such as beef and pork: loin, tenderloin, round cuts, and steak. Ground meat can also be good, but try to select ones that have a higher percentage of lean meat to fat ratio. Lean meat contains high levels of selenium which can help fight against age-related health conditions including cardiovascular problems, chronic inflammation, Alzheimer’s, and even tumors. The iron in red meat also helps sustain a healthy level of red blood cells and prevents iron deficiency anemia in older adults.
When preparing meat, try to avoid deep frying cooking techniques. Baking, roasting, stir-frying, and broiling are much healthier for your body.
Vegetarians can opt for other protein-rich sources like quinoa, beans, lentils, mushrooms, and chickpeas. Consuming just half a cup of cooked lentils provides at least 9 grams of protein. Lentils are considered one of the richest sources of plant-based protein and are also full of other beneficial nutrients like fiber and iron.
Say No to Sugar and Processed Food
Many people retain their sweet tooth into old age. But eating too much sugar and processed food only aggravates weight gain and makes you prone to developing diabetes and other health problems. Consider swapping sweets with fruits like berries, peaches, dates, or bananas. You could chop them up and make yourself a delicious fruit parfait. Simply throw them in a small bowl of plain yogurt and enjoy! The yogurt is a great source of calcium and protein, while the fruits will satisfy your sweet craving, and boost your vitamin C. Dried fruits are also a popular snack and can be purchased from most grocery stores.
Keep Activity Levels High
Diet and lifestyle go hand-in-hand in tackling weight loss. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults aged 65 and older should aim for a total of at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week. While this may seem like a lot, it’s easily achieved by just doing 20 minutes of brisk walking every day.
If you have access to a gym membership, try to make use of the treadmill, exercise bike, and the elliptical cross-trainer. Cardio machines get your heart rate up and help you work out your whole body as these machines target multiple muscles at once. Also, the added bonus of using a cross trainer is that it works on both legs and arms simultaneously, which is great if you’re looking to get rid of flabby arms. Swimming is also a great low-impact sport as it increases your cardiovascular strength, tones your arms, and lets you exercise your whole body without putting too much strain on your joints.
Use Weights to Tone your Arms
Dumbbells are a great way to tone upper arms and can be incorporated by themselves or together while walking outside. When you first start, pick a weight that you feel comfortable with—5 to 7.5 pounds is a good starting point. If this begins to feel too easy, consider increasing the weight slightly. This will help you build more muscle and achieve results in a timely manner. If you don’t have any dumbbells, you can use large soup cans or water bottles filled with sand to help you start out.
Seniors’ Specialist Physiotherapist and Exercise Scientist, Mike Kutcher, says that you cannot pick and choose where you want to lose fat. Instead, you must exercise your whole body. This way, you will lose fat everywhere, including in your arms. In his video, Kutcher introduces three exercises aimed at strengthening the arms using two dumbbells and an armchair.
Before you start the exercise, it’s best to begin with a simple warm-up. You could jog in place and do some shoulder rolls, arm circles, or neck exercises. Do whatever works best for you and make sure you do it slowly, so you don’t pull a muscle or injure yourself. This is especially important if you haven’t exercised for a long time, as your muscles will be particularly sensitive. So, start slow.
Try a Simple Arm Workout
Once you’ve finished your warm-up, you can start with the arm exercises. The first exercise works on your biceps. To start, make sure you’re sitting comfortably in a chair with your back straight while holding your dumbbells. Make sure your elbows are straight and your palms are facing front. Then, curl up your arms, and slowly return back to the starting position. Do this for at least 10 reps.
The second exercise targets your shoulders. Sit upright and place the dumbbells pointing upwards on your knees as you take a deep breath in and exhale out. Then, hold the dumbbells out and level with your shoulders, with palms facing front as you push your arms up toward the ceiling. Bring your arms back down to your side and repeat this for another 10 reps. Make sure your back remains straight throughout the exercise!
The last exercise just involves a chair, so you can put those dumbbells down on the floor. Start out with some shoulder rolls to relax your shoulders. Then, take a few deep breaths and place your hands on the arms of your chair. Lean forward slightly, keeping your back straight, and push your body up using the chair for support. Go back down and repeat this for another 10 reps. Make sure to straighten your arms and then squeeze your arm muscles as you come down.
Kutcher recommends repeating this set of exercises a total of three times to ensure a good workout. However, he advises you to go at your own pace to prevent any body strains. Make sure to watch his video for a comprehensive demonstration.
As you begin gaining more confidence with the exercises and weights, you can consider increasing the weights to something more challenging. Continue to monitor your diet and make healthy choices to maintain your ideal weight. However, try not to become stressed if you don’t achieve the results you want in a short period of time. Good things take time. As long as you keep fit, you’ll see results. Above all, have fun!