If you’re over 50 and don’t feel as strong as you used to or don’t have as much stamina as you once did, it’s not surprising. Just like bone density decreases with age, we also lose muscle mass. The decline in skeletal muscle, a condition called sarcopenia, is a natural process that occurs in everyone over time. It can lead to frailty and increased risk for falls and loss of independence.
Understanding an imbalance
Muscle loss occurs because of an imbalance between two neurological signals involved in muscle growth. A catabolic response sends a signal to reduce the size of muscle, while an anabolic response sends a signal to build up muscle. A stronger catabolic response means less muscle is built.
Most experts agree that the imbalance that leads to muscle loss begins around age 50, although some studies suggest it might start earlier. “This will affect everybody by the age of 75,” Calabrese says. An inactive lifestyle accelerates the process.
“Younger adulthood and middle age is when you want to get a jump on this to preserve muscle strength over time,” Calabrese says. Even if you didn’t start early, it’s not too late.
No matter how old you are, you can combat sarcopenia. Exercise builds strength, but nutrition is just as important.
And don’t forget about exercise …
“The best way to limit the extent of loss of muscle strength is by staying physically active all through life,” says Calabrese. “But if you’ve been sedentary and have lost strength, the answer is still exercise.”
A combination of aerobic and strength-training exercises will improve muscle health, as well as overall health. If you haven’t been very active and are just beginning to exercise, go slow. “Don’t do too much too soon,” says Calabrese.