Sarcopenia 101: Muscle Loss Starts After Age 30
Did you know that you can start to lose muscle mass as early as the age of 30? This could explain why some men are bound to start forming "dad bods" around this age and some women whether moms or not start losing their muscle definition.
On average, you can lose 3-8% of muscle mass each decade after the age of 30 (woah!). The loss of muscle mass associated with aging is known as sarcopenia.
In the US, between 35-45% of people over age 65 have sarcopenia (1).
Why do we lose muscle mass?Muscle mass decreases for several reasons as we age:
- Decreased physical activity - Think back to your teens and 20s, if you were in high school or college sports, then you probably moved/exercised way more than you do now, especially if working an office job with plenty of sitting. Muscle mass adapts to its usage level, and the less we use our muscles the less muscle your body needs.
- Hormonal changes - As you age, your body may produce less testosterone (T), growth hormone(GH) and insulin like growth factor (IGF-1), hormones are involved in protein metabolism and muscle maintenance. A sustained reduction in the levels your body produces has been linked to decreased muscle mass and increased body fat.
- Slowed metabolism - Muscle loss is often coupled with a slower metabolism, because less energy is needed to maintain smaller muscles. If you are still eating for large muscle, those excess calories are likely turned into fat.
- Changes in gut flora - As you age, the microorganisms on the lining of your intestines can lose their ability to absorb nutrients. This can be due to things like stress, low-grade inflammation or a poor diet. If protein is not being properly absorbed, then your muscles may not be getting enough nutrients to sustain themselves with.
- Decreased food or protein intake - Muscles can't maintain themselves or grow without right amount of dietary protein or other nutrients. If you're eating low volumes of food or not enough protein, then there is an increased risk of muscle loss. This is common with elderly persons who might have a decreased appetite due to an underlying health condition, stress or use of medications.
Why is preserving muscle mass so important?
Losing your muscle mass can be dangerous especially at old age, since this can and often leads to frailty (weakness) and increased risk of falls. Without enough muscle mass, bones also have a tendency to become porous (easy to break).
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 1 out of 3 adults aged 65 or over falls each year (1). Out of those who fall, 20-30% suffer moderate to severe injuries that make it hard for them to live independently and/or increase their risk of early death (2). You don't want to lose your independence do you? The average health case cost of a fall injury totaled $19,440 back in 1998 (including hospital, nursing home, emergency room, and home health care). Imagine what it costs today!
Sarcopenia can make daily activities difficult and ultimately reduce the quality of life. If you're over the age of 30, preserving your muscle mass is so important for this reason. Not only will it help to keep the body strong and stable but it will also help with overall health. For many, the less muscle lost, the less metabolism is reduced. Also, greater muscle mass means faster recovery from injury or illness. Although consequences are worse at an older age, it's important to take preventive measures sooner than later. The longer you wait the more challenging it will become to regain more muscle.
- Sarcopenia and Diet. Nutrition411.com Available at:
- Tromp AM, Pluijm SMF, Smit JH, et al. Fall-risk screening test: a prospective study on predictors for falls in community-dwelling elderly. J Clin Epidemiol 2001;54(8):837–844.
- Sterling DA, O'Connor JA, Bonadies J. Geriatric falls: injury severity is high and disproportionate to mechanism. Journal of Trauma–Injury, Infection and Critical Care 2001;50(1):116–9.