Like many, I stopped going to the gym in February 2020 when it looked like North America was about to join the swaths of countries crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A little over a year later, and I have to say that I look and feel quite different from a physical standpoint. My muscles are weaker, and much of it has left my body.
That’s what happens when you don’t use muscle: you lose it. Even though I’ve made sure to go out and walk daily and perform some weight training with dumbbells and resistance bands, it’s not what my body was used to.
Slowly but surely, the strength and size I once had has greatly diminished.
Fortunately, I’m still young enough to reverse course and rebuild my lost muscle. But for others who’ve lived a sedentary life, have a medical condition like osteoporosis, or more rare conditions that affect muscles and movement, it might not be as easy.
People older than 65 are vulnerable to muscle atrophy, which is essentially the loss of muscle. The consequences are weakness, poor balance, frailty, and a potential inability to perform daily tasks you take for granted.
I’m talking about things like trouble raising your arms to reach above your head, putting on your socks, opening jars, or holding a pen. Muscle atrophy can also contribute to muscle twitching and cramps.
Most cases of muscle atrophy are not caused by injury, medical conditions, or other physical setbacks. Rather, it is the result of limited movement. Sedentary living is the number one cause of muscle and strength loss.
The rate and effect of muscle loss depend on how much you had in the first place. If you’ve been active and strong, it will be easier, or at least longer, before atrophy sets in.
Even still, one study suggested that men lost 25 percent of gained muscle following a two-week break from an eight-week strength training program.
Thankfully, muscle can be regained with exercise and diet.
Talk to your doctor about coming up with a suitable exercise routine (likely involving resistance training) and a nutrition plan (likely to include more protein and calories).
Remember to ease into any activity to prevent injury and get a little bit of exercise every day. You can rebuild lost muscle and enhance functionality with a little bit of effort and sweat equity!