Where Did the Muscle Go?

Brett Minter, PT

December 2009

We lose one percent of muscle mass per year after the age of forty.  By age eighty, if nothing is done about this, a person would have lost approximately half of their muscle mass.  Big deal, right?  You may say, “at least I’m losing weight.”  Muscle is not the weight that you want to lose.  There was a recent article in a prominent magazine that stated that exercise is neither beneficial nor necessary for weight loss.  Without arguing the merits of the article, I will make this statement.  Exercise is essential to slow muscle loss and to remain a healthy functioning member of society. 

 Muscle loss begins in our twenties and thirties and accelerates into middle age.  We lose one to one point four percent per year after the age of forty.  Loss is greater in the lower body than upper body.  In addition, as we age a greater percent of muscle than fat is lost.  Leading a sedentary lifestyle, disease and pathological conditions can increase this percent of muscle loss.  This muscle loss with advancing age is called sarcopenia.  CT scans have revealed decreased crossectional area of individual muscles, along with a decrease in muscle density and an increase in intramuscular fat.  These changes are predictable and appear to be more pronounced in women.

 Decreased muscle mass results in a loss of muscle strength.  The reduction in the size or number of muscle fibers also leads to a decrease in the ability of a muscle to generate power.  All everyday activities require a certain degree of power development.  A decrease in the ability of the muscles to produce force rapidly will adversely affect the ability of the population to safely perform activities such as stair climbing, walking and other leisure activities.  By now you are probably asking yourself is there anything that can be done to reverse this downward spiral of decreased muscle mass, decreased strength and decreased function. 

 Yes, there is something that can be done to slow this inevitable loss of muscle.  The answer is exercise.  Not just any exercise but resistance exercise.  Walking, jogging, biking, hiking and other endurance activities will yield excellent cardiovascular benefits.   However, they will not greatly benefit muscle building.  Muscle building can only be accomplished through resistance exercise, i.e. free weights, body weight exercises, machine exercises or resistance tubing.  Resistance training increases muscle strength, power, endurance, mass, fibersize, metabolic capacity, resting metabolic rate, bone mineral density and physical function.  Everything that decreases with normal aging can be increased by resistance training.  The only thing that actually increases with normal aging is your body fat, but that too can be decreased with resistance training.

 Normal aging is associated with a number of undesirable changes in body composition.  There is a way to minimize these negative effects and everyone is able to do this.  Both aerobic and resistive exercises are beneficial but only resistance training can increase muscular strength and muscle mass.  So, for this new year when you start to make resolutions, don’t worry so much about weight loss.  Resolve to maintain muscle, strength and function through resistance training.  If you are interested in remaining as strong and functional as possible, please contact any of our offices where we have trained professionals to aid in resistance training programs.

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