How to prevent age-related muscle loss

From the time we turn 40 years old, many of us will begin to lose muscle mass and strength – a degenerative aging process known as sarcopenia.

Estimates place the prevalence of sarcopenia in older adults as high as 1 in 3, and people can lose as much as 3 to 5 percent of their muscle mass each decade after the age of 30.

Sarcopenia has a high rate of adverse outcomes including reduced bone density, increased risk of osteoporosis and arthritis, loss of function and increased frailty. It is one of the most significant causes of functional decline and loss of independence in older adults by slowly affecting the ability to perform daily activities such as walking, rising out of a chair and walking up stairs.

Fortunately, there are steps that can slow – or even reverse – this aging condition.

How to reduce the effects of sarcopenia

Although sarcopenia can affect anyone, people who are physically inactive are most at risk.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that exercise, and specifically resistance training or strength training, is one of the best ways to prevent and treat sarcopenia. These activities increase muscle strength and endurance through the use of weights or resistance bands.

Having stronger and larger muscles can protect bones and joints from osteoporosis and arthritis, strengthen ligaments and tendons, improve body composition and reduce the risk of falling. Research suggests that those with better upper-body strength are more often able to live independently as they age, as activities such as cooking, cleaning and bathing are easier.

Strength and resistance training – where to start

The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology recommends that older adults should participate in muscle strengthening activities for the major muscle groups (legs, arms, chest and back) two to three times per week on nonconsecutive days using moderate-intensity resistance training. Moderate intensity is a level at which one should be able to carry on a short conversation but still be somewhat challenged.

For those who do not want to put too much strain on their joints, resistance bands are a great tool to help build muscle. Balance training is also very important for promoting muscle growth and is a great starting point for those new to strength training.

A few examples of strength training include sit to stand, wall push-ups, glute bridges and calf raises (please refer to pictures above and to the right).

For older adults with arthritis or other joint conditions, exercising in water is a great alternative to take some weight off of your joints and strengthen the muscles surrounding them. This can include water walking or water aerobics.

The takeaway

Strength training is an important component of any exercise program. It conditions muscles to improve balance, protect bones and joints, enhance body composition and generally allow for the proper performance of daily living activities.

Declining muscle mass is part of aging, but that doesn’t mean we are helpless to stop it.

For more information on how to get started with strength or resistance training, please speak with your Copeman Healthcare kinesiologist.