Sarcopenia Weakens Muscles In Aging Bodies, But It Can Be Managed.

If you’ve been lax about starting, continuing, or expanding your current conditioning program, it is time to get with the program. Many seniors are susceptible to weakened muscle as a natural effect of aging. When was the last time you picked up trash barrel, laundry basket, your bike, kayak, or even your skis, and you realized that they seem heavier than they used to be. The condition is called Sarcopenia, and it affects 13 percent of 60 year olds and as many as 50 percent of 80-plus.

In a recent New York Times article, Jane Brody, a personal health and fitness columnist, says that although the condition is fairly prevalent, not many seniors know about it.

Few practicing physicians alert their older patients to this condition and tell them how to slow or reverse what is otherwise an inevitable decline that can seriously impair their physical and emotional well-being and ability to carry out the tasks of daily life.

Dr. John E. Morley, a St. Louis University School of Medicine geriatrician, says that sarcopenia is to muscles as osteoporosis is to bones. “Sarcopenia is one of the most important causes of functional decline and loss of independence in older adults.”

The good news in all this is that the effects of sarcopenia can be reversed by exercise.

No matter how old or out of shape you are, you can restore much of the strength you already lost. Physical therapist, Marilyn Moffat, a professor at New York University, noted that research documenting the ability to reverse the losses of sarcopenia — even among nursing home residents in their 90s — has been in the medical literature for 30 years, and the time is long overdue to act on it.

That’s yet another reason to get back to conditioning.  Start a strength-building program using weights, bands, or machines.  As Dr. Moffat points out,

Start with two repetitions and, using correct form through the full range of motion, lift slowly and lower slowly. Stop and ask yourself how hard you think you are working: ‘fairly light,’ ‘somewhat hard’ or ‘hard.’ If you respond ‘fairly light,’ increase the weight slightly, repeat the two reps and ask yourself the same question. If you respond ‘hard,’ lower the weight slightly and do two reps again, asking the question again.

If you respond truthfully ‘somewhat hard,’ you are at the correct weight or machine setting to be exercising at a level that most people can do safely and effectively to strengthen muscles. Continue exercising with that weight or machine setting and you should fatigue after eight to 12 reps.

Now here’s a surprising insight. Your current exercise program might not be adequate to hold sarcopenia at bay.

The fact that you may regularly run, walk, play tennis or ride a bike is not adequate to prevent an incremental loss of muscle mass and strength even in the muscles you’re using as well as those not adequately stressed by your usual activity. Strengthening all your skeletal muscles, not just the neglected ones, just may keep you from landing in the emergency room or nursing home after a fall.

Exercise and paying attention to protein in your diet are the keys to remaining strong or at least as strong as you can be as you age. Read Jane Brody’s article and get busy.


One Comment

  1. Interesting arrival…I’m almost 71, and am busy settling a new piece of property with my 47 year old daughte. I am working very hard to finish the inside of my little cabin, insulation, walls, etc before winter. We r also trying to get the fencing done on our 10 acres. I have lost over 26 lbs working every day for two & one half months, and it has become less difficult to do more work each day. I put in a full 9 hr day, and yes I was exhausted, but I got so much done, I was amazed at my muscle retention…Yes the next day I kinda took it easy, but I wasn’t even sore! Hardly, Haha

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