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Sarcopenia is the age-related degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass, strength, and function as a person ages. This muscle loss starts to occur slowly at around age 40, but accelerates greatly at around age 75.

Muscle loss due to sarcopenia is a very important factor in quality of life and function during aging. Sometimes, the level of muscle loss can be high enough to partially or completely disable a person, making them unable to live independently, requiring assistance for daily living and sometimes nursing care. Balance and gait, not to mention speed of movement, can be affected enough to cause falls which lead to debilitating bone fractures. Sarcopenia effects many older adults.

There are many myths related to age-related muscle loss. One of them is that the sole cause of this muscle loss is inactivity. Although inactivity is a main predisposing factor, sarcopenia can be present even in those that remain active throughout life. There are likely many intertwining factors, including, perhaps, inactivity, motor-unit remodeling, decreased hormone levels, and decreased protein synthesis. As well, there may be genetic factors. Age-related muscle atrophy is constantly being studied and new findings are often released.

It is difficult to define how much muscle loss constitutes sarcopenia, but a general definition among researchers and clinicians is muscle mass that is more than two standard deviations below the mean muscle mass of a healthy young adult. This figure means that when a person has sarcopenia, their muscles are smaller than 98% of healthy twenty-year-olds. The levels of muscle loss can vary significantly between different individuals, however.

Regardless of the many complex causes, resistance training can greatly reduce muscle loss while specifically addressing many of the underlying causes. Although many fitness professionals recommend strength training as the primary means to stave-off and reverse sarcopenia, to specifically address it, all modes of anaerobic resistance training should be used by older adults, including rep ranges, volumes, and rest periods that effect maximal strength, and muscular endurance. As well, power training may be valuable. Depending on age, level of sarcopenia, and functional ability, professional guidance may be needed to ensure the effectiveness and safety of any resistance training program.

For more information on sarcopenia and aging and exercise related subjects, consult Bending the Aging Curve: The Complete Exercise Guide for Older Adults.

This page created 12 Mar 2016 21:53
Last updated 23 Feb 2017 21:09

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