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The Ageing Process and the Relationship with Strength and Muscle Mass

Posted by Phil Heler, MD on October 18, 2018

When muscles age they begin to gradually atrophy (waste) and there is a subsequent loss of mass or muscle bulk (this is called sarcopenia). This is essentially just a natural phenomenon related to physiological ageing, but it is important to remember that sedentary lifestyles can accelerate the process

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The Ageing Process and the Relationship with Strength and Muscle Mass

THE HEALTH OF OUR MUSCLES AS WE AGE

As we age so do our muscles, something that we tend to forget as we normally associate ageing specifically with bony structures. When muscles age they begin to gradually atrophy (waste) and there is a subsequent loss of mass or muscle bulk (this is called sarcopenia). This is essentially just a natural phenomenon related to physiological ageing, but it is important to remember that sedentary lifestyles can accelerate the process.

muscles 3

The total quantity and size of muscle fibres generally begins to decrease with age. This decrease in muscle tissue begins around the age of 50 years and becomes more obvious into our sixth decade. Loss of muscle mass has a direct relationship with proper muscle function (hence the higher incident rate of heavy falls in much later life). An example would be hand grip strength, which will decrease, making it more difficult to undertake daily activities such as opening a jar or turning a key.

muscles 2

Some of the reasons for this are as follows

  • Denervation of the motor nerves that supplies the muscles results in the loss of motor units and thus, total number of muscle fibres.
  • A decrease in the production of anabolic hormones such as testosterone, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor-1 also impairs the capacity of skeletal muscle to incorporate amino acids and synthesise proteins.Unfortunately, it also takes muscles longer to respond and adapt to loads and stresses in our 50s than they it did in our first few decades of life. This is also because the water content of muscle tendons, the cord-like tissues that attach muscles to bones, also decreases as we age, they subsequently become less plastic. Age therefore makes tissue stiffer and less able to tolerate the stresses that we impose upon them.
  • There are some measures that we can all take to reduce these effects.
  • Stretching is an excellent way to help maintain joint flexibility and some of the techniques we use in osteopathy are aimed at specifically increasing joint mobility
  • Resistance exercises or weight training can help to increase muscle mass and strength and there is some evidence that long-term regular exercises may slow the loss of muscle mass and prevent age-associated increases in body fat.  
  • Exercise also helps maintain the body’s response time, as well as its ability to deliver and use oxygen efficiently. Just 30 minutes of moderate activity, incorporated into your daily routine, can provide health benefits.
  • We can advise you on a specific range of exercises to both stretch and strengthen any joint or muscle in the body to incorporate into a daily routine.