Older adults are not sick - they are just weak

Lee's Summit JournalJuly 22, 2014 

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal includes information on how to keep our muscles strong as we age and is certainly good information for everyone.

Muscle strength is one of the keys to healthy aging, and you may think that you are not old enough to worry about this problem but did you know that we all reach peak muscle mass in our early 40s, it’s pretty much downhill from there. So even though you are relatively young, most people begin to lose modest amounts of muscle at that point and experience progressive loss of muscle as the years go by, especially if they are not active.

Researchers are looking at promising treatments to slow the loss of muscle and may help to rebuild muscle.

“For now, however, the best medicine available to maintain muscle mass and strength is less complicated and costly – namely, exercise and a healthy diet. Yet about 60% of people over 65 are insufficiently active and many have poor nutrition,” said Nathan LeBrasseur, a researcher who directs the Muscle Performance and Physical Function Laboratory and the Healthy Aging and Independent Living Initiative at Mayo Clinic. He estimates that most people will lose approximately 30 percent of muscle mass over their lifetime, and as much as 50 percent by the time they reach their 80s or 90s.

“Muscle is also central to metabolism, or the rate at which fat and calories are burned, and can help improve resiliency to the stressors of aging,” LeBrasseur said. “By simply stepping up activity like walking, gardening and household tasks, we can slow the loss and prevent crossing that critical threshold that leads to functional limitations and metabolic issues.”

Chronic diseases such as diabetes, which inhibits the metabolism of nutrients in the body, are believed to contribute to age-related muscle loss, and older obese individuals with decreased muscle mass or strength are at special risk for adverse outcomes, according to research funded by the National institute on Aging

In addition to the mounting evidence of the benefits of physical activity in stemming decline, some research suggests older people should eat more protein, with a focus on leaner sources. Also, low vitamin D levels are associated with low muscle strength, and supplementing it may increase strength and function and reduce falls. But be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any supplements such as protein or vitamin D.

It has been shown that resistance exercises can improve strength, while aerobic exercise can improve overall health and quality of life and a combination of the two for 20 to 30 minutes three times a week.

There is some inevitability to declining strength and muscles in aging but according to Karen Bandeen-Roche, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins aging center. “We can’t say frailty can be prevented in all people, but we can compress it to a smaller proportion of the end of life.”


Judy Schmoeger, a longtime resident of Lee’s Summit, is owner and general manager of Anytime Fitness.

Lee's Summit Journal is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service