How does aging affect the muscles?
Loss of muscle mass, strength and function, otherwise known as sarcopenia, can be an unfortunate part of aging. In later years sarcopenia may increase the likelihood of falls, frailty and fractures, plus it can contribute to the loss of independence as it becomes more difficult to do everyday tasks.1
However, this isn’t the only way that the muscles change as we get older. During the menopause oestrogen levels fall and this affects the hydration of the joints. This can result in painful joints which, in turn, may cause you to alter your posture. As a result, this can put strain on certain muscles including those in the back, neck and shoulders, thus leading to pain and discomfort here.
Menopause begins anywhere between the ages of 45 and 55, though it is not unusual for it to start a little later too.
Our Menopause Expert Eileen offers more information on this topic in her video ‘Leg problems during the menopause and how to ease them’.
At what age do you start losing muscle?
Sarcopenia usually begins to develop after the age of 30 and can get worse over time.2 The process tends to speed up around the age of 75, though it may occur a little earlier or later depending on factors like lifestyle and diet.
Can older adults build muscle?
Although declining muscle mass is a normal part of aging; that is not to say it is inevitable. Building muscle as you get older may take longer than it did in the past but with a strong plan, and plenty of resistance exercises, it is still possible.
Resistance training, or weight training, is one of the best activities for preventing and managing sarcopenia as it helps to strengthen and tone the muscles. There are a whole range of resistance exercises to choose from:
- Training with resistance bands – see my blog ‘4 easy exercises you can do with resistance bands’ for more information
- Kettlebells – most gyms and sports centres will have instructor-led classes
- Dumbbells – your local gym will have these in various weights so you can gradually build up the amount you lift
- Barbells – again, you can find these in your local gym. If you haven’t used them before, a member of staff will be able to give you instructions on how to lift them safely.
How to support the muscles
There are a number of ways to support the muscles as you get older. Research claims that lack of physical activity can be crucial to the development of sarcopenia so, staying active as you age is very important.3 A variety of activities including aerobic, strength and resistance exercises can be helpful in both preventing and managing sarcopenia.
You can visit our Get Active hub for advice on how to do a little more exercise.
There is also evidence to suggest that adequate protein and vitamin D intake can keep sarcopenia at bay, especially if you are already deficient in these.4 Protein may help to slow the loss of muscle mass whilst, according to various studies, vitamin D may improve muscle strength.5