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The Importance of Maintaining Muscle Mass with Age

What happens to muscle mass with age?

As we age, our ability to grow and repair muscle declines and the amount of fat tissue and inflammation in the body increases. This results in decreased muscle mass and function. The literature provides a range, but it is on average about 2-4% loss of muscle strength each year from the ages 20-80. This corresponds to about 35-40% total loss over these 60 years. That is a staggering amount. This transition occurs naturally with age, however, an individual’s lifestyle can either slow or accelerate this process.

Why is this important?

Muscle mass is tightly correlated with overall mortality. Sarcopenia is a condition characterized by loss of skeletal muscle mass and function. Although it is primarily a disease of the elderly, its development may be associated with conditions that are not exclusively seen in older adults. Sarcopenia is a large risk factor for both disability and death.

In fact, in a study that looked at those who are considered sarcopenic there was a 60% in relative risk of death when compared to those who were not considered sarcopenic.

When we take a closer look at the data, we see that in older age, (past 60 years) the impact of muscle mass plays an even bigger role in health and lifespan.

Not only does muscle mass play a role in metabolism and strength but it is also important to help maintain balance and reduce the risk of falls. You can see in the figure below, the impact of injuries and falls on death over time.

On the other end, if you look at the lifelong training curve vs. the untrained curve, you can see that building muscle mass from a young age can play a very important role in reducing the risk of death.

Bottom line- muscle mass important for healthspan AND lifespan. If you would like to be active, strong, and healthy in your 70’s, you cannot afford to be average at age 50.

Go lift some weights!

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