The loss of muscle mass that accompanies aging is a major cause of frailty in the elderly. However, this phenomenon, known as sarcopenia, can be largely prevented by regular physical activity in adulthood.
One of the most tangible effects of aging is undoubtedly the gradual decrease in the body’s strength and endurance. For most people, muscle mass peaks in early adulthood and begins to decline slightly between the ages of 30 and 40. This reduction in physical performance is particularly ruthless for professional athletes at the highest level: With few exceptions, these athletes cannot keep up with the pace of the youngest and have to end their careers at the end of their 30s.
One of the main factors involved in this muscle wasting is myostatin, a protein that blocks the biochemical mechanisms responsible for muscle cell production and growth. Therefore, as blood levels of myostatin gradually increase with aging, there is a decrease in the muscle’s ability to regenerate and the appearance of scarring and fatty deposits in muscle tissue.
Sarcopenia: 30 to 50% muscle wasting between the ages of 40 and 80
While the gradual loss of muscle mass with age is a perfectly normal phenomenon, it can accelerate far too quickly in sedentary people who don’t use their muscles regularly. In these people, muscle mass loss can reach 1 to 2% per year by the age of 50 to 60 and 3 to 5% per year in old age. Overall, an inactive person can lose between 30 and 50% of their muscle mass between the ages of 40 and 80.
This excessive muscle wasting, called sarcopenia, is a very serious medical problem that affects nearly a third of the elderly population. On the one hand, sarcopenia causes many physical problems, since the loss of a large part of muscle mass causes people to become very frail, tire quickly and consequently reduce the quality of life and increase the risk of death.
Loss of muscle mass: not inevitable
The good news is that sarcopenia is not inevitable and can be largely prevented with the right diet and most importantly, regular exercise. It is often said that what is not used is wasted, and this is especially true when it comes to muscle. There’s a real vicious circle to a sedentary lifestyle: the less you move, the less muscle you have, and the less muscle you have, the less you move. Conversely, an active person exercises their muscles regularly and manages to maintain a good balance between their muscle and fat mass. Physically active people also have lower levels of myostatin, which partially counteracts this protein’s effect on muscle mass loss.
feel younger than their age
We live in a world where the appearance on the outside, especially that of our skin, is often more important than the well-being on the inside. This is especially true when it comes to aging: while society spends vast sums of money each year on “anti-aging” medical devices or procedures, only a minority of people adopt healthy lifestyle habits that are able to slow the gradual deterioration of our functions appear with age.
However, the example of sarcopenia makes it clear to what extent this “internal aging” is primarily responsible for all the chronic diseases that reduce both life expectancy and quality of life. So healthy aging doesn’t mean looking younger than you, it means feeling younger than you!
Denison HJ et al. Prevention and optimal management of sarcopenia: a review of combined exercise and nutrition interventions to improve muscle outcomes in the elderly. Clin IntervAging 2015; 10:859-869.
Cooper R et al. Objectively measured exercise capacity and mortality: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ