Paul New Physiotherapy

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Ageing Well...

Published: 7th Apr 2018   

This may be a little hard to swallow but from the age of 30 we all start to experience a reduction in muscle size and strength. This reduction in muscle mass occurs with a comparative decline in physical activity, so as we age, we naturally become slower and weaker as the years pass. But hang on, this is not depressing, we just need to accept the inevitable (grey hair and wrinkles) and then we can embrace age and grow old well.

The size of our muscles and their strength, just like our bone density, reaches a peak somewhere between 20 and 30 years of age. From 30 the size and number of muscle fibres slowly reduces, resulting in a reduction in strength of 1 to 5% per year. This decline is slow from the 3rd to 4th decade of life but at 50 it becomes more pronounced and the rate of age related strength loss accelerates. Up to 50% of the body's fast twitch muscle fibres are lost between 20 and 75 years of age.

Muscle tissue makes up 40% of our total body weight and is responsible for a quarter of our protein production. Muscles are vital for movement and the health benefits that come as a result of regular physical activity. As muscles weaken they become more predisposed to injury resulting in an increased number of muscle strains, often seen in older people. A reduction in muscle strength can result in difficulty performing daily tasks and causes frailty in older age, stopping us enjoying a quality of life.

One reason for this decline is a reduction in growth hormones such as testosterone which act as a biological ignition key for muscle growth. At 50 years of age both men and women experience a decline in hormonal levels producing physical changes and a loss of muscle power.

However, a lack of physical activity is another key factor in most cases of age related strength changes. Inactivity is a major cause of muscle weakness at any age but when combined with normal age related changes over the age of 50 it compounds the problem and results in the disability often seen in older people.

Research has shown that muscle mass and strength can be improved in old age with physical activity and strength training. Studies in older people indicate that physical activity can stimulate muscle protein production and improve functional ability, thus reducing muscle fibre loss and limiting strength deficits. A study in people aged 65 to 85 years of age showed that 12 months of regular strength training had a significant reduction in age related loss of muscle tissue and strength.

As celebrity doctor Muir Gray states in his book, The Antidote to Aging, it is a combination of a lack of fitness and normal age related changes in muscles that cause physical disability. While we can only slow age related loss of muscle strength, a loss of fitness is another matter entirely. For most people, in the absence of serious illness, physical fitness can be improved and function restored. So the message is get moving and be active to keep your muscles and bones strong. Its only through regular physical activity that we will all be robust, productive and independent in old age.

If you need help to be active or would like to improve or maintain your muscle strength or bone health then contact me and let's work out a plan together so we can strive to age well and avoid frailty.

Further reading:
[1] Keller, K. & Engelhardt, M. (2013). Strength & muscle mass loss with ageing. Muscles, Ligaments & Tendons Journal, 3(4), 346-50.

[2] Baharat, A. Naeem, A. Basharat, Z. and Qamar, M. (2012). A systemic review on the effectiveness of exercise in sarcopenia. Journal of Public Health & Biological Sciences, 1(2), 61-67.

[3] Gray, M. (2014) Antidote to Aging.


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© Paul New Physiotherapy 2018