Muscle Mass Matters: The Magic Pill for Aging Well
By Libby Bergman PT, DPT, OCS, FAAOMPT
Diet and exercise trends seem to have changed significantly over the past 30-40 years. It can feel like the more we know, the more complicated keeping up with health and wellness trends can become. No matter where you fall on the spectrum of readiness to embrace changes in your overall health and wellness, there is one fact that is here to stay: muscle mass matters. No matter how you look at health related research trends, the impact of having more muscle is profoundly positive. And yet, once we hit about 40 years old, the process of age-related muscle loss (a term called sarcopenia) begins and is only reversed or slowed with training.
Starting at age 40, healthy adults lose about 8% of their muscle mass every 10 years. That amounts to a 24% loss between ages 40-70- and that’s if all goes well. Periods of hospitalization, serious illness, pregnancy and hormonal changes in menopause can further accelerate these changes. Much like the research on age related bone loss, current research opinion is that the more muscle you have earlier on in life, the less chance that normal age-related muscle loss will impact your health and wellness into your 70’s, 80’s and beyond. Simply put, better muscular strength and more muscle mass early in life leads to aging well.
In 2017 alone, a review of scientific literature found that individuals with higher muscle mass had:
● For individuals without underlying medical conditions:
o Improved pulmonary function
o Improved kidney function
o Decreased cardiovascular risk factors
o Improved physical function
o Better balance scores
o Better scores on measures of self-perceived quality of life
o Decreased risk of fractures
o Decreased risk for developing osteoporosis
● For individuals with underlying medical conditions:
o Improved bone mineral density and decreased fracture risk in patients with osteoporosis
o Higher rates of survival of inpatient surgeries
o Less complications after elective and emergency surgeries
o Higher rates of survival of cardiac conditions, COPD and kidney/liver conditions
o Improved cancer survival rates
o Better response to treatment in cancer patients
o Decreased severity of Alzheimer’s disease
o Improved physical function, survival and nutritional status for those with Alzheimer’s disease
No matter your age or your current health conditions, it's never too late to start reaping the benefits of building muscle. So where do you start?
While we know complete inactivity accelerates age-related muscle loss more rapidly, aerobic training (such as walking, biking and swimming) alone does not alter the natural course of muscle loss. Muscles need to be trained with resistance exercise, over time to stop the process of age-related muscle loss. If you’ve committed to an aerobic based exercise program, don’t stop! Aerobic exercise is critical to your cardiovascular health and has been shown to also have many important health benefits including the prevention of cancer, cardiovascular disease and endocrine disorders. But if you aren’t doing any resistance-based exercise, it’s time to consider switching up your routine and spending some of that time you’ve carved out for cardiovascular exercise with strength training.
If you are ready to build strength training into your program, check out this 30 minute full body strength training program from the American Physical Therapy Association today:
This program includes three levels of training for you to progress through over time, or to stick with for the long term! If you are looking for a more tailored home program, or experience any pain or symptoms related to attempting a strength training program, give us a call at (406) 752-7250 and schedule an appointment with one of our Physical Therapists who can help you reach your health and wellness goals.
If you are looking for the magic pill to aging well, look no further than your very own muscle strength!
Marzetti E, Calvani R, Tosato M, et al. Sarcopenia: an overview. Aging Clin Exp Res. 2017;29(1):11-17.
Prado CM, Purcell SA, Alish C, et al. Implications of low muscle mass across the continuum of care: a narrative review. Ann Med. 2018;50(8):675-693.