Staying Active and Nourished to Prevent Muscle Loss
19 Jan 2021
Leading an active lifestyle is important for overall health throughout all stages of life, but staying active is especially important for individuals over age 65 to prevent muscle loss.
A recent analysis in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews concluded that regular exercise may reduce the rate of falls by 23%.1
While people who have practiced a regular exercise routine throughout most of their lives are more likely to stay active as they age, this isn’t the case for all.
Furthermore, in a time when social distancing and new health risks have led to many elderly individuals spending more time indoors, even those who were previously active may be struggling to maintain their usual habits.
Staying active into older adulthood is important because not only does exercise help reduce the risk for various chronic diseases, boost immunity, and manage weight, it also helps to prevent muscle wasting, called sarcopenia, that is common in older age groups.
According to Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, regular exercise can reduce rate of falls by 23%.
Incidence of Muscle Loss in Older Adults
While many older adults notice that their joints feel stiffer and more painful due to reduced elasticity of skin, tendons, and ligaments, many also notice muscle loss, especially in the arms and legs.
Muscle strength can be impacted by only a few weeks of slightly reduced activity, which many adults are experiencing during safer-at-home orders.2,3
Sarcopenia is estimated to affect at least 10% of adults over the age of 50, with up to 40% in hospitals or supported living such as rest homes. In fact, adults lose between 3% and 8% of their muscle mass yearly after middle age.4,5
Getting older increases the risk for muscle loss, but it’s still largely preventable with a healthy diet, sufficient protein intake, and regular activity, which can be enjoyed even at home.
Of adults over the age of 50 are estimated to be affected by sarcopenia, with 40% in hospitals or supported living such as rest homes.4
How to Stay Active in Advanced Age at Home
Older adults who are used to jogging or bicycling outdoors, or heading to a local swimming pool to do laps, may be wondering how to transition to activities that are indoor-friendly but still effective.
The best activities to help maintain muscle mass are resistance or strength training and weight lifting, as well as weight-bearing exercises.
These types of exercises break down muscle fibers and trigger growth signals that cause muscles to repair themselves and grow stronger.6
Some aerobic exercises that raise heart rate can help manage sarcopenia, too, such as hiking, jogging or riding a bicycle.7
Luckily, when typical outdoor activities are not possible, strength-based exercises can be done at home with minimal equipment, in a safe way.
Here are some examples of muscle-strengthening exercises to do at home for people who are still very mobile:
- Using stairs or shallow ledges to do step-ups
- Using a chair to practise squats with support
- Using a small weight such as a tin of soup to do sit-ups, squats, chest and shoulder exercises
- Wrist and ankle weights to do arm and leg lifts
- Dancing to your favourite music
- Resistance bands to perform leg, arm, and glute exercises
- Climbing up and down the stairs at a pace that increases heart rate
- Utilising an app or youtube to do pilates or seated yoga
Exercises should be rotated and adjusted to build muscle memory and meet individual abilities.
The most important thing to remember is to choose exercises that are challenging but not too strenuous, going at a pace that is comfortable. Consistency is key to staying active and preventing muscle loss throughout life.
Always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise prescription.
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and freelance writer with 12-years of experience in the field of nutrition and dietetics.
-  Sherrington C, Fairhall NJ, Wallbank GK, Tiedemann A, Michaleff ZA, Howard K, Clemson L, Hopewell S, Lamb SE. Exercise for preventing falls in older people living in the community. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2019, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD012424. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD012424.pub2. Accessed 04 January 2021.
-  Dodds RM, Roberts HC, Cooper C, Sayer AA. The Epidemiology of Sarcopenia. J Clin Densitom. 2015 Oct-Dec;18(4):461-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4629409/
-  Bell KE, von Allmen MT, Devries MC, Phillips SM. Muscle Disuse as a Pivotal Problem in Sarcopenia-related Muscle Loss and Dysfunction. J Frailty Aging. 2016;5(1):33-41.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26980367/ .
-  Angulo J, El Assar M, Rodríguez-Mañas L. Frailty and sarcopenia as the basis for the phenotypic manifestation of chronic diseases in older adults. Mol Aspects Med. 2016 Aug;50:1-32. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27370407/
-  Kizilarslanoglu MC, Kuyumcu ME, Yesil Y, Halil M. Sarcopenia in critically ill patients. J Anesth. 2016 Oct;30(5):884-90. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27376823/
-  Schoenfeld BJ. The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Oct;24(10):2857-72.https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2010/10000/The_Mechanisms_of_Muscle_Hypertrophy_and_Their.40.aspx
-  De Spiegeleer A, Petrovic M, Boeckxstaens P, Van Den Noortgate N. Treating sarcopenia in clinical practice: where are we now? Acta Clin Belg. 2016 Aug;71(4):197-205. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27112427/