We lose muscle strength and power as we age: how much and why does it matter?
Do you find it more difficult to get out of that low chair than you did several years back? This is probabaly a consequence of losing strength and power of the leg muscles. When does this start to occur and how much?
It’s well known that strength and power will decline with aging in both leg and arm muscles, and this eventaully affects the ability of older adults to perform even simple daily task such as rising from a chair or climbing stairs.
The decline in strength of limb muscles that occurs with ageing typically starts from about 50 years of age onwards and declines even more rapidly after about 75 years in healthy older adults. However, in men and women who do not regularly exercise, the decline in strength and power can start as early as 30 to 40 years of age. Therefore, the decline is strength occurs at a rate of about ~10% per decade or 1% per year from about 40 years of age, so the average healthy 80 years old can have half the strength of a 20-30 year old person.
So why do we lose strength and muscle power as we age? We lose strength because we lose muscle mass and volume as we age. The entrie muscle gets smaller beucase the inidvidual muscle fibres shrink in size and some also die.
Muscle power also declines with aging. Power is the result of strength and speed of a muscle. The loss of power of limb muscles can be even greater than the loss of maximal strength alone because leg muscles also become slower with aging, in addition to the decreases in strength..
So why is the age-related loss of power important? Our ability to conduct daily tasks such as rising from a chair or climbing stairs is closely associated with limb power. The more powerful your legs for instance, the more likely you will be able to rise from that low couch without needing to use the arm rest.
In fact, the more powerful your limb muscles the larger the buffer between your maximal limb power and the actual power needed to get out of the chair.
Is it all doom and gloom? No because regular strengthening/power exercises can really help offset that age-related decline in strength and power.
We can move better for life by incorporating regular exercise into our daily lives. I hope you found this blog useful,
Hunter, S. K., et al. (2016). “The aging neuromuscular system and motor performance.” Journal of Applied Physiology 121(4): 982-995.