How To Prevent And Reverse Muscle Loss As We Age

Published: 16th March 2012
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Loss of muscle is an expected result of the aging process, but it is not inevitable. While nearly all adults start losing muscle mass as early as their thirties, the usual decline in strength and muscular size is largely preventable. Maintaining muscle mass as we age should be an important part of a healthy lifestyle as it contributes to skeletal strength and helps prevent injury.

Why We Lose Muscle

Sarcopenia, or muscle loss, is due to several contributing factors. Hormonal changes, lack of exercise, and lack of adequate protein intake are the usual causes.

Some medical conditions may increase the rate at which muscle is lost, such as diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease.

Additionally, some medical treatments for illnesses may result in muscle loss due to dietary restrictions, medications, or both.

Loss of muscle can cause serious health issues in some adults.

People with weak muscles are less able to maintain good posture, keep their balance, or live independently. As a result, diminished muscle mass makes you more prone to falls, breathing problems, and psychological problems such as depression.

Your are also less likely to get adequate exercise, which may lead to obesity, heart disease, and adult-onset diabetes.

Hormone Treatments

Thankfully, there are several effective treatments for muscle loss in aging adults. Hormone replacement therapy may be used to boost testosterone levels in both men and women, and exercise routines may be used to increase both muscle mass and strength.

Dietary changes may be needed to address muscle loss due to malnutrition or medication.
Dietary Solutions
In healthy older adults, simple lifestyle changes can prevent or reverse most cases of age related muscle loss. Adding more protein to the diet is essential to gaining muscle.

To avoid gaining extra fat, lean protein sources should be used.

Chicken breasts, fish, egg whites, and turkey are all excellent protein sources for older adults, as well as nut butters and protein shakes made with sugar free sweeteners.

Avoid the use of heavy sauces, fried foods, and excess sugar while adding protein to the diet. Aim for a minimum of seven grams of protein per twenty pounds of body weight every day to meet protein requirements.

Avoid the use of professional weight-gaining formulas when rebuilding muscle. Although many body builders swear by gainer’s formulas, they often contain chemicals that may be harmful in large amounts.

Creatine shakes in particular may cause excess fluid retention, which can raise blood pressure and increase the risk of stroke in susceptible people.

Regular exercise is also essential. While most doctors recommend walking as the ideal exercise for older adults, walking alone will not reverse muscle loss.

Weight bearing exercises must be included in any exercise routine for increasing muscular strength.

Weightlifting routines specifically designed for seniors may be found online, or an individual plan can be created by a doctor, physical therapist, or fitness instructor.

The amount of weight used for each exercise should be determined by each individual’s overall condition, current level of strength, and health.

Most people who are rebuilding lost muscle start with very light weights, and gradually increase the amount lifted as they gain muscle mass.

In older adults with health issues, reversing muscle decline can often improve your overall health.

Health Complications That Can Impact Exercise

However, those with health issues should discuss changes in their diet and activity levels with their doctor before they begin.

If you have kidney disease, for example, you may be unable to safely add extra protein to their diet, and if you have decreased bone density may be unable to lift heavier weights.

That said, even if you are bedridden you can benefit from rebuilding muscle, even if you never progress beyond lifting five pounds of weight.

Some medical conditions need to be more carefully monitored when starting a new diet and exercise routine.


Diabetics in particular should change their routine slowly, due to the risk of exercise induced hypoglycemia. Insulin levels may need to be adjusted due to diet and activity level changes.

Because of the increased risk of hypoglycemia, diabetics should never exercise alone, and should always carry a glucose meter and emergency sugar while exercising. Easy to carry glucose gel packs are great for diabetics just starting a new exercise routine.

Since muscle mass increases insulin sensitivity, insulin dosages may need to be reduced as muscle is gained.

Heart Disease

If you have heart disease you should also start very slowly, and gradually increase youractivity level as their condition improves.

Many doctors recommend building strength before attempting to add aerobic work to an exercise routine for heart disease patients.

Over time, medications may need to be reduced or even eliminated, so regular checkups should be scheduled when working out.

As with diabetics, heart disease patients should work out with a partner, and carry emergency identification and medication when exercising.


Arthritis sufferers may at first be discouraged by increased pain and joint stiffness after exercising, but with regular exercise, most find their condition improves within weeks.

Arthritis patients often suffer from reduced mobility in weight bearing joints, so exercises may need to be modified to strengthen muscles around affected joints.

A consultation with a physical therapist is a helpful starting point for people with arthritis who wish to reverse muscle loss.

COPD Lung Disease

Other conditions may also be affected by increased activity. COPD and other lung diseases may initially feel worse with exercise, but like arthritis, these conditions may improve with continued exercise.

Studies have shown that COPD patients who engage in moderate physical activity increase their endurance levels, even without increased lung function.

Those with asthma and related conditions often experience increased lung capacity and fewer symptoms as their activity levels rise.

Psychological Benefits of Improving Muscle Strength

Preventing and reversing muscle loss as we age has psychological benefits, as well. Physically active seniors report feeling less depressed and anxious than their couch potato peers.

Cognitive function is also increased as muscle mass rises, probably due to higher blood oxygen levels and better circulation.

If you stay active as they age you are less likely to need long term nursing care, and are more likely to take an active role in managing your own health.

For just those reasons alone, combating age related muscle loss is a worthwhile endeavor for all adults.  Understanding how to prevent muscle loss and even reverse it, will ensure that you have a strong and healthy future ahead.

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