If You’re Just Average at age 50, You Could Be “Up a Creek” When You’re 80!
– From birth to about age 30, the muscles in your body, are on a steady track of growth. Then a shift happens. Sometime, between your 30s and 40s your muscles stop growing and start to deteriorate causing a decrease in muscle mass and function. For some, this breakdown in muscle mass can be considerable and damaging due to Sarcopenia.
Sarcopenia is the age-related loss of muscle mass and strength beginning as early as when you’re in your 40s. It is one of the most important causes of functional decline and loss of independence in older adults.[i] As the condition progresses, it can cause a poor quality of life and eventually death. It is a fact that with aging we lose strength. That loss of strength at best is reported as 1% loss per year.[ii] Some studies showed 1.3% per year. Other studies have indicated a loss of one to 2% per year after age 50.
If we look at this on a long-term basis, you can expect to lose 35 to 50% of your muscle strength between age 20 and 80. And the strength losses might even be greater. Some studies even show 4% strength loss per year especially in people with other medical conditions that prevent them from exercising to maintain some strength.
Why does all this matter?
Sarcopenia is a known factor in functional impairment. As your muscles deteriorate, you are at greater risk of mobility issues and have an increased risk of falls. There is also a strong correlation with muscle loss to the development of other diseases such as metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and cancer.[iii]
Is Sarcopenia reversible?
Studies show that with a healthy diet and exercise one can stop the loss of muscle mass and help to rebuild some muscle. I frequently counsel my patients on the importance of maintaining one’s strength from their 40s with regular resistance exercises at a minimum of twice a week. This could be achieved with weight training, resistance bands, or body weight exercises (or a combination of all three.) I stress the value of getting ahead of the aging curve by developing strength and muscle mass early on.
What we are finding is that some deterioration is inevitable, so the best way to prepare is to be above average in your strength before you reach age 50. If you are just maintaining average muscle strength when you’re 50, then you could be facing a difficult path during retirement. You will likely be “behind the eight ball” with declining muscle strength by the time you’re retired. So, if you hope to be able to have an active lifestyle at 80, you need to be above average at 50.
Your strength and stability are also incredibly important to reduce your risk of falling and of developing osteoporosis, both of which can lead to fractures. Fractures can also lead to long-term illness and even death from complications of fractures. At the very least, lack of cardiorespiratory fitness and strength can lead to chronic back pain and episodes of severe pain and disability that prevent you from being independent and able to perform the activities of daily living.
Low fitness compared to even average or above average fitness can mean the difference between a life of low functionality and pain and a life that is full of vitality and energy. I cannot emphasize how important it is to enhance one’s fitness, strength, and stability to have a happier life. So, start moving and strengthening your muscles. Your life and health will depend on it.
[i] Current Opinions Rheumatology. 2012 Nov; 24(6): 623–627
[ii] Keller, Karsten, and Martin Engelhardt. “Strength and muscle mass loss with aging process. Age and strength loss.” Muscles, ligaments and tendons journal vol. 3,4 346-50. 24 Feb. 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3940510/
[iii] Walston, Jeremy D. “Sarcopenia in older adults.” Current opinion in rheumatology vol. 24,6 (2012): 623-7. doi:10.1097/BOR.0b013e328358d59b