Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Muscular loss and Aging

One of the hallmarks of aging for both men and women is the loss of strength, muscular stamina and muscle mass.  This loss of muscle mass and other related issues leave signs such as stooped posture, slow and unsteady movement, loss of muscular coordination and poor stamina that can be reversed with appropriate physical activity.

Often as we grow older we become less active.  This raises the old "chicken and egg question" do we lose muscle mass as a result of inactivity or does the inactivity result form the loss of muscle and related strength and stamina?

Maintaining similar levels of activity we will still lose muscle mass as we become older.  Without activity studies have shown we will lose 4 times the amount of muscle mass as those that maintain an active lifestyle.

Sarcopenia: Literally defined means "vanishing flesh".
The degenerative loss of muscle mass and motor coordination resulting in frailty that results from aging.
See also Sarcopenia from Wikipedia
Related Effects

Reduced muscular endurance/stamina - Possibly due to reduced muscle mass.

Reduced muscular power output.  The may be due to a reduction in the fast twitch fibers.

As muscle mass declines with age the bodies metabolic rate slows and fat accumulation is often the result.

Bones become more fragile and porous.

Loss of stamina and strength.

Balance and Coordination decline

Rick of falls, along with decreased bone mass due to aging puts older folks at extreme risk.

Joint discomfort and arthritic like symptoms

Inactivity leads to reduced useful capacity and difficulty performing the activities of daily life.  At this point quality of life and independence become threatened.

Result = Frailty



As we get older activity levels tend to decline.  Regular physical activity is important in maintaining a quality independent lifestyle, it substantially reduces the risk of developing many diseases; contributes to healthy bones, muscles, and joints; and can reduce the risk for falling.  

Drop in Hormones

Men lose testosterone and women lose estrogen as they age.  Both lose growth hormone and IGF (Insulin Like Growth Factor).  Testosterone tends to decline in men about 1% per year every year after 40.  One avenue for men is to check with your Doctor to see if testosterone replacement therapy is appropriate for you.  Women should also check with their doctors to ensure healthy endocrine function.


Another area to look at is changes to your diet.

Adequate Protein intake may help slow the effects of age related sarcopenia.
1g per pound muscle mass per day is a reasonable minimum for older adults engaged in strength training. .
Try and get at least 25g of protein per meal.
This will be discussed much more fully in a subsequent post.

See also Protein key to preventing age-related muscle loss

Vitamin D Deficiency

Vitamin D deficiency may contribute to muscle loss.  Check with your Doctor to see if you vitamin D levels are low. This will also be discussed much more fully in a subsequent post.

See also Vitamin D For Healthy Muscles And Aging Gracefully

What is the solution?

Many time when we think of our older populations and think of exercise we think of slow and steady endurance activities.  Any activity will be better than none.  Endurance training can improve cardio respiratory function, increase insulin sensitivity and can help to lower blood pressure and help to avoid other complications of aging.  The key to achieving these benefits is to make whatever form you choose a regular activity (2-3 times per week).  What slow and steady endurance activities will not do is help to avoid the muscle wasting that progresses through age, in order to combat this we need something else.

That something else is progressive strength training.

Regular physical exercise, particularly strength training helps to improve protein synthesis(muscle building), build and preserve muscle, increase insulin sensitivity(we will talk about this much more in a future post), improve muscular stamina, increase bone density and reduce fat retention.

Muscle atrophy and loss of strength are the top effects of aging and will take place where the muscles are not actively used.  Use Them!

Strength training helps to reduce this frailty, coordinate motor neurons, provides more core strength to assist in balance, improves bone density

Long steady state cardio will not help and may be counter productive to the goal of maintaining muscle mass as we age. Typically it is not cardio function that proves to be the most restrictive factor associated withe decreased ability to perform activities of daily life

Regular physical activity is critical for older adults who want to maintain their independence and quality of life

Program developed around the ability to function well in their activities of daily living

Getting Started?

Get a medical check up before you begin a weight training program.

If you've never had experience with resistance or weight training before find a good coach or personal trainer who is familiar with training older adults.

Learn primarily full body movements with free weights (barbells, or dumbells), or body weight movements, pull ups, push ups, etc. Most of your weight training should involve free weights.  Machines are fine as finishers, to pick up a little isolation work, and are a good place to start if you strength is severely diminished, but the long term focus should be on multi joint movements with free weights.

Remember also: Older folks benefit from longer warm up and longer cool down periods.

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