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April 20, 2023

A Key to Aging Well: Muscle Mass

aging well
Artwork courtesy of Pixabay

Muscle Mass and Aging Well

One key to aging well is frequently overlooked. And, that key is the importance of muscle mass. Building and maintaining muscle mass is more significant than most people, including physicians, realize.

I have an exercise for you. It’s not a physical exercise but rather a mental one.

Regardless of your current chronologic age, list just 5 things you would like to do or be able to do during your:

  • 60s
  • 70s
  • 80s
  • 90s

These could be places to travel, new hobbies or interests, volunteer work, family and socializing events. Whatever you think you want to do, not what you think you will be able to do, write it down.

OK, do you have your list, at least in your head? If you are smart you would write your list down.

How many of those items on your list relate to doing something physical or at least requires being in a certain state of fitness to accomplish?  My hunch is well more than half of the items you listed require you being fit and mobile to a certain degree.

The point of this mental exercise is that our ability to enjoy life and do things that we each find pleasurable depends on the health of the musculoskeletal system. Life is far more enjoyable when we are mobile and have physical strength. The basic level of strength and fitness is one that enables you to carry out your activity of life. That’s the bare minimum one should strive for.

Play in our older years remains important just as it is in children. Muscle mass is the currency of aging. Frail individuals are not able to do much physically and their ability to enjoy life diminishes greatly. Muscles allows us to play.

Aging well is about being vibrant and having a youthful attitude. Aging well means you don’t automatically avoid doing something because of your age.

Why Muscle Matters

Muscle matters for several reasons. First, nearly all of us realize realize that muscles are the prime movers of the body. But, they have other very important roles. Muscle is very involved in glucose metabolism. Insulin-resistance is root in muscle tissue. Insulin resistance is linked to diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

The more muscle you have, the more insulin receptors you will have, and the easier it will be to clear glucose from the bloodstream lowering the risk of insulin resistance and its complications.

In this sense, we can think of muscle as the largest endocrine organ of the body.

Higher muscle mass protects against falls which is the leading cause of accidental death in the elderly.

Muscle mass improves longevity. Your ability to survive disease is improved the more mass mass you have. Muscle becomes a reservoir for amino acids that the body can draw upon when confronted with a serious illness.

Aging Well by Increasing Muscle Mass

Aging is naturally associated with a decline in muscle mass – but declining muscle can be avoided or minimized. It is never too late to build muscle. It is possible to build muscle even in our 70s and 80s.

When you think about it, we don’t have work at building fat. All we have to do is eat more. But, building muscle is different. Building muscle takes effort. It takes a well thought out plan.

Building muscle requires a stimulant and that stimulant is resistance/strength training. It also requires being in a state of nitrogen balance which is the anabolic state. This means adequate protein intake. Aging, if left without intervention, is naturally a catabolic process. In other words, we will lose muscle mass with aging unless we take action.

See our article, Muscle Mass Matters, for tips on exercise and diet. Take action to build muscle. You’ll be glad you did and will find yourself aging well.



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Dr. Joe Jacko

Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio at Grandview Primary Care. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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