Age Related Muscle Loss Comes Down to ‘Use it or Lose It’!
By: Dr. Peggy Malone
I have patients in my office every day with various aches and pains who look at me and say things like “I guess I’m just getting old Doc”.
In every case, I look at them and say quite seriously…
“Age only matters with wine and cheese” and then I smile
I’m exaggerating a bit for effect, but a recent study shows that I may be on to something, especially when it comes to age related muscle loss.
The official term for age related muscle loss is ‘sarcopenia’. This loss of muscle with aging is a big factor that contributes to complications that many people face as they get older.
Muscle loss can cause a host of problems as you age from osteoporosis to problems with managing blood sugar. It also contributes to the loss of mobility and strength to do everyday tasks and enjoy physical activities.
Some of the causes of age related muscle loss are:
-a decrease in growth hormone and testosterone
-an increase in the stress hormone cortisol
-poor diet and nutrition
Until now, it has been pretty much universally accepted that the majority of people will find that they start to lose muscle mass and strength around the age of 40 and the loss will continue each year as they get older.
There are numerous studies in the literature that back this theory up, but the majority of these studies used sedentary subjects to draw the broad conclusion that it’s all down hill after 40.
The exciting new study that I mentioned above offers convincing evidence that it really doesn’t have to be that way!
Dr. Vonda Wright, an orthopedic surgeon at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine in Pittsburgh, submitted the results of a study that showed that this decline in muscle after age 40 has more to do with lack of use than just getting older.
The study used masters athletes between the ages of 40 and 81 who trained 4-5 times per week for swimming, cycling or running (or some combination) races.
Dr. Wright and her team performed various fitness and strength tests on the subjects and took MRI scans of the upper leg to measure muscle and fat content.
The study showed that neither leg muscle size nor strength declined significantly with age among the subjects!
This is so exciting and it suggests that regular training prevented the muscle-wasting effects of aging.
The MRI scans published in the study showed the quadriceps in a 40-year-old triathlete compared with a 70-year-old triathlete.
They were virtually the same!
In contrast, the quadriceps of a 74-year-old sedentary man were shrivelled and enveloped in fat.
So it really does come down to ‘Use It or Lose It’!
This may seem like common sense but, the majority of North Americans still don’t even meet the minimum requirements for physical activity, let alone do enough exercise to prevent age related muscle loss.
Oh and by the way….remember when I listed a decrease in growth hormone and testosterone as a reason why people lose muscle as they age…..well guess what increases production of these hormones?… EXERCISE.
I also mentioned that an increase in the stress hormone cortisol will contribute to age related muscle loss. Well guess what will help to control stress and cortisol levels?…EXERCISE.
Dr. Wright hopes that the results of her study will get people thinking about how their current physical activity choices will affect their future health and wellness.
“We control 70 per cent of how we age,” she says. “The other 30 per cent is genetic, and we can blame our mothers for that. But 70 per cent is in our hands.”
The one piece of information that is important to note here though is that you cannot rely on a single form of exercise to preserve muscle function throughout the body. For example, running will keep your legs strong but you may lose muscle in your arms as you age, so it’s important to choose a mix of exercises for the whole body that also target cardiorespiratory fitness and bone health. I
don’t know about you, but when I heard this information, I felt like I needed to drop everything and go work out!
You really do have much more control over how you age and how your body functions and feels as you get older.
So the next time a patient in my office assumes that their aches and pains are inevitable and that it’s a down hill slide after age forty, I will tell them:
Age only matters with wine and cheese….and
Use it or Lose it!
Then, since many people think that it’s too late, I might direct them to this picture of a 70 year old man who decided it wasn’t too late to get in shape. It's never too late to make a change.
You can do it.
If you don’t have your next workout scheduled, now is the perfect time to put it into your calendar. Start with a 10 minute walk if that’s all that your schedule or your body will allow.
Get Moving! Your body will thank you and you will age that much more gracefully and healthy!
Dr. Peggy Malone is a Chiropractor and an Athlete who helps other athletes to overcome injury and get back to their sport. Her weekly Television Series 'Living Well" inspires people from all walks of life to take control of their health to be as happy and as healthy as they can be.
A former varsity Basketball and Rugby player, she has since entered the world of endurance athletics where she has completed 2 Ironman Triathlons, 3 Marathons, several Half Marathons and many other Triathlons, Road Races and Off-Road Adventure races of varying distances.
Her own athletic endeavors and injuries have given her valuable insight into working with athletes in her practice for both the care of injuries as well as for the improvement of athletic performance.