You can expect to lose muscle size and strength as you age.
Between 40 and 50 years of age, the average person loses more than eight percent of their muscle size. This loss increases to 15 percent per decade after age 75.
The people who lose the most muscle usually are the least active, exercise the least and are the ones who die earliest. Older people who lose the most muscle are four times more likely be disabled, have difficulty walking, and need walkers and other mechanical devices to help them walk (Am J Epidemiol, 1998; 147(8):755-763).
Your muscles are made up of thousands of muscle fibers, just as a rope is made up of many strands. Every muscle fiber is innervated by a single nerve fiber. With aging you lose nerves, and when you lose a nerve attached to a muscle fiber, that muscle fiber is lost also.
A 20-year-old person may have 800,000 muscle fibers in the muscle in the front of his upper leg, but by age 60, that muscle would have only about 250,000 fibers.
For a 60-year-old to have the same strength as a 20-year-old, the average muscle fiber needs to be three times as strong as the 20-year-old’s muscle fibers. You cannot stop this loss of the number of muscle fibers with aging, but you can enlarge each remaining muscle fiber and slow down the loss of strength by exercising muscles against progressive resistance (Experimental Gerontology, August 13, 2013).
It's never too late to get started on an exercise program.
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