As a person ages, their muscle mass will generally shrink, and strength and power will go down. It might not seem like a huge deal, but it is.
For some, this gradual age-related muscle decline – called sarcopenia – can begin as early as age 35 and lead to a loss of one or two percent of muscle per year. After age 60, it can jump to three percent.
Of course, these numbers aren’t set in stone. Some may go through mild muscle loss, while others may be more moderate or severe. There are even people who may stay in the normal range.
On average, though, people who don’t do regular strength training can expect to lose about four to six pounds of muscle per decade. It won’t always show up on the scale, either. Most of the time, it will be replaced by fat.
The effects are multi-fold. For one, both fast- and slow-twitch muscle fibers are lost. Fast-twitch fibers, however, are lost at a quicker rate. This means you’re not only getting weaker, but you’re getting slower.
What does all this really mean? It means an accelerated loss of independence that can make everyday activities like walking, shopping, or getting dressed a real challenge.
Weak muscles can also make it harder to cope and recover from an illness or injury. Disability can be up to 4.6 times higher in older people with moderate to severe sarcopenia than in those with average muscle mass.
Even more, weaker and slower muscles can make it hard to balance while moving or even standing still. This is likely one of the leading reasons that one in every three adults 65 and over falls every year.
The consequences of a fall can be devastating and lead to severe injury, the potential of long-term care facility admittance, or worse.
So, what can you do to fight back against muscle loss? Use them. Try to do some form of resistance exercise (weight training) a few times per week.
Talk to a fitness professional and your doctor before beginning. It’s essential to remember your safety and capabilities to prevent injury or exacerbate an existing condition.