It is inevitable that as we age, we lose muscle mass. Research has shown that starting around the age of 35, the loss of muscle begins. Although regular exercisers still lose muscle as they age, those who do not exercise at all can lose as much as five percent of their muscle every decade.
Loss of muscle mass and strength can lead to falls, injury, fractures, hospitalization, and even mortality. This is why it is so important to maintain healthy muscle. It is associated with prolonged independence and a better quality of life.
Loss of muscle mass with aging is called sarcopenia. It has several causes including decreased activities in the nerves that control muscle contractions. Age-related drops in estrogen, testosterone, and growth hormones can also inhibit healthy muscles. And many older people can experience decreased appetite, which may also exacerbate muscle loss.
The decline of muscle and strength often go hand in hand. When there is muscle loss, strength is also lost, and strength loss occurs more rapidly than muscle loss. This can make everyday living such as yard work and housework more difficult. In a study conducted in Europe, it was found that 90-year old men with the lowest muscle mass and strength were 10 times less likely to live independently in their own homes.
There are a few preventative measures that can be taken to avoid muscle loss after the age of 35. The most important lifestyle choice that needs to be maintained is participating in regular physical activity. The best exercise for muscle loss is resistance training, which includes weightlifting, water aerobics, and Pilates. If you are physically unable to complete resistance training, any activity can help, including walking.
Seniors who have limited mobility can try exercises at home with videos from experts online. Those who enjoy group fitness classes should check with their local senior center or YMCA.
A healthy diet can also go a long way towards keeping muscles strong. Protein is muscle’s favorite food, but as we age, our body becomes less efficient at making muscle from protein. Because of this, it is important to compensate by increasing your protein intake so that it accounts for about 25 percent of your daily calories.
A Drug to Improve Muscle Strength?
The anti-diabetic drug metformin was theorized to help seniors improve muscle and strength. But, in a recent clinical trial led by UK researchers, it was found that the drug was not beneficial for the non-diabetic participants.
Although this drug was not found to help with muscle loss, there are many supplements available that can contribute to healthy muscles. These include B vitamins, Vitamin D, creatine and protein supplements that can easily be added to smoothies.
Before starting any new exercise program or supplement regime, be sure to check with your doctor. With simple lifestyle changes, you can avoid major muscle and strength loss which help keep you healthy and living independently for as long as possible.