Sarcopenia has been defined as the age-related loss of muscle size and strength. It is often reported that sedentary individuals between the ages of 50 and 70 lose about 1% of their muscle strength per year, and about 3% per year thereafter (1,3). Indeed, the average person will lose about 40% of their muscle mass between the ages of 20 and 70 (2). If this loss of strength is great enough, it can limit one’s ability to carry out day-to-day tasks and increase their risk of falling.
Fortunately, more and more research shows that a proper exercise program can do wonders for maintaining muscle size and strength with age. Additionally, other important characteristics of muscle tissue such as power, quality, and metabolism are improved with strength training. It is important to note that aerobic exercise such as walking has not been shown to have an effect on muscle size, strength, power, or quality (1).
As you can see in the photo below, the 74-year-old triathlete has maintained the same level of muscle mass as the 40-year-old triathlete. Contrast this with the 74-year-old sedentary individual who demonstrates little muscle mass along with an abundance of fat mass.
In summary, the loss of muscle size and strength that often accompanies aging is largely preventable. Just two 30-minute bouts of full-body strength training (think squats & deadlifts) a week is a great place to start. Begin with an amount of weight you can safely perform for 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps and slowly progress over time.
(1) Chodzko-Zajko, Wojtek J. Ph.D., FACSM, (Co-Chair); Proctor, David N. Ph.D., FACSM, (Co-Chair); Fiatarone Singh, Maria A. M.D.; Minson, Christopher T. Ph.D., FACSM; Nigg, Claudio R. Ph.D.; Salem, George J. Ph.D., FACSM; Skinner, James S. Ph.D., FACSM Exercise and Physical Activity for Older Adults, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: July 2009 - Volume 41 - Issue 7 - p 1510-1530 doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181a0c95c
(2) K Sreekumaran Nair, Aging muscle, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 81, Issue 5, May 2005, Pages 953–963, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/81.5.953
(3) Spirduso, W. W., Francis, K. L., & MacRae, P. G. (2005). Physical dimensions of aging. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
This article is for educational purposes only and not designed to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or ailment. Please speak to your physician before engaging in or changing up your exercise routine.