As people age, they lose muscle mass. Doctors have a term for it—sarcopenia. It is estimated that 10% of older adults have severe sarcopenia, and as many as 35% have moderate muscle loss. Sarcopenia is problematic because it leads to loss of muscle strength and quality. And strength is highly associated with functional activities.

A certain level of strength is necessary to perform normal activities (walk, stand, eat, etc.). Most older (and many younger) adults have just enough strength to allow them to perform their normal, daily tasks. So, it doesn’t take much, even a loss of as little as 10% muscle mass, to severely affect physical performance. Unfortunately, quality of life declines rapidly once a person loses the ability to perform their normal tasks.

Fortunately, exercises, especially strength training, can effectively counteract the effects of muscle loss. Whether using free weights, elastic bands, weight machines, or body weight, progressive strength training has been shown to produce large increases in strength and moderate increases in bone mineral density, endurance, lean body mass, and insulin sensitivity. More importantly, strength training can decrease many age related disabilities.

The evidence that older adults can, and should, increase their muscle mass is overwhelming. Numerous studies over the past 20 years have demonstrated that older adults can safely and significantly build muscle mass. Injuries sustained from falling remains one of the leading causes of disability (and death) in older adults-even though we know that strength training programs can dramatically decrease the incidents and severity of falls.

Strength training/exercise is one of the most benificial activity an older adult can engage in. Besides improving physical function, more and more studies are finding that strength training has a powerful affect on improving brain function. Strength training stimulates the brain at a much higher level than anything else, including reading, crossword puzzles, debating, and…..medication.

While strength training can be very beneficial, older adults need to be aware that exercising improperly can be dangerous.  Tissues such as bone, cartilage, and muscle react differently to exercise as the body ages, so exercise programs need to be specifically designed for the older adult.

Coast Physical Therapy Services qualified Santa Cruz personal trainers will be able to create an individualized fitness program that just right for you.