Chapter 7

Future Older Adults and Sarcopenia

In this chapter, I discuss sarcopenia and the importance of education for our future older adult population and how it affects our seniors today.

Sarcopenia is the age-related involuntary loss of skeletal muscle and muscle strength. It can start as early as the fourth decade of life. It is documented that by the eighth decade of life there can be up to 50 percent loss of muscle mass. Other than the loss of strength, the functional declines associated with sarcopenia can in turn contribute to a number of adverse health outcomes, including loss of function, disability, and frailty. Sarcopenia is also associated with acute and chronic disease states, increased insulin resistance, fatigue, falls, and mortality.30

Part of my goal in writing this book is to create a campaign of public awareness about the adverse effects of sarcopenia and bring awareness to individuals in their thirties and forties about the benefits of physical activity.

45-year-old uses kettle bells for strength training

They are our future older adults.

By the fifth and sixth decade of life, physiological changes due to sarcopenia may be more pronounced compared to the younger group. Exercise, along with other interventions such as improved nutrition, will benefit everyone in countering the effects of sarcopenia.

How can fitness professionals spread the word about sarcopenia?

In our profession, we have a great deal of contact with young and middle-aged adults. We have the opportunity to leverage our sphere of influence and use platforms such as social media to create a dialog about this underreported condition. The ability to reach more individuals will be more effective if we work as a collective whole toward increasing public awareness.

Below is an article I wrote called “Sarcopenia’s Foes: Active Aging,” which is geared to the general population and explains how and why we lose muscle (sarcopenia) as we age, why this matters, and why keeping up our strength is a great anti-aging strategy:

The human body is a marvel of nature and is designed to adapt and move. Our introduction to movement begins when we are born by first being able to hold our head up, then roll over, sit up, crawl, squat, and finally walk! 

Throughout each developmental phase, we progressively develop muscular strength and conditioning specific to a movement pattern. For example, crawling requires strength in the upper body, lower body, core, and stimulates brain activity. Similarly, the deep squat is a total body functional exercise that requires lower body and postural muscles and necessitates joint mobility and flexibility. 

As we move on to adolescence, the act of play becomes a training ground for muscular and cognitive development.31 Hanging from monkey bars strengthens our upper body; jumping and sprinting contribute to building the cardiovascular system, joint integrity, and bone density. We may also get introduced to competitive sports or group activities that challenge both our physical potential and mental acuity. 

What I have described above is based on the SAID principle: Specific Adaptation on Imposed Demands. Whether the activity is dumbbell training, calisthenics, swimming, or cycling, the body will change on a physiological and neurological level to adapt to the activity.

60-year-old relearning dynamic warmups

 We are hardwired to move because movement is rooted in our species’ history. To understand the importance of moving, look back at the prehistoric age and you will realize how our species would have become extinct if we did not get moving!

 The transition from teenage years to adult life brings changes that may limit our physical activity–studying, commuting, family, work demands, and retirement, to name a few. 

 Some of us have had to postpone or limit our own workouts but may experience gentle reminders to initiate and commit to a fitness program. Some limitations might include recurring low back pain from playing with the kids, getting winded from taking the stairs at work, weight gain, or having a family history of high blood pressure.

 Thus, adults can experience the downside of inactivity or a sedentary lifestyle, namely the loss of muscle strength and muscle wasting, also known as sarcopenia. Over a period of time, muscle loss may get progressively worse and thus affect our quality of living, especially as we age.

 The good news is that sarcopenia can be addressed at any age through a safe and results- driven strength regimen.  

89-year-old client

Whether you have past experience in exercise or are new to fitness, just like when you were a baby, let’s take the first steps to your goal while developing skills and lifestyle changes conducive to long-term results.

 There is no better time than now to experience the benefits of strength training, the secret weapon for anti-aging.

Education is key for future older adults’ wellness, and accessibility is vital for reaching as many people as possible. Let’s take advantage of the internet and create content specifically for the general population along with workshops at your local community centers. Writing an article is one method; you can also do podcasts, videos, or other presentations on this subject.

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30. Walston JD. Sarcopenia in older adults. Curr Opin Rheumatol. 2012;24(6):623–627. doi:10.1097/BOR.0b013e328358d59b

31. Components of Body Movements: Locomotor, Nonlocomotor & Manipulative Source: