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Use it or lose it

The ability to stand from a seated position, unassisted, is considered to be one of the most important measures of physical function and independence among older adults. The inability for older adults to stand unassisted has increased dramatically over the years due to lack of physical activity and muscular strength.

As we age, specifically when we hit around 55 years, there is a measurable decline in muscle mass and muscle strength. There are changes in muscle composition, muscle quality and neuromuscular function – our ability to control and coordinate movements. These changes affect performance of functional capacities and/or activities of daily living, which may lead to frailty. Inactive adults lose around one percent of muscle mass and three percent of muscle strength each year. This loss is called sarcopenia and it is now associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality.

Although aging is a common cause of sarcopenia, there are other factors you can control so the age at which it becomes defining can be elongated. Those who are living a sedentary life, getting little to no physical activity and who have poor dietary habits are at a higher risk of developing sarcopenia. Symptoms of sarcopenia include decrease in muscle size, weakness, loss of endurance and stamina which interferes with daily activities, poor balance, trouble climbing stairs and standing from a seated position. Though, sarcopenia is associated with loss of mass, those who are obese are also at high risk of this. Sarcopenic-obesity refers to low muscle mass and high body-fat percentage. It characterized as having small arms and legs with a high waist circumference.

‘Use it or lose it’ is the best way to off-set any problems or complications down the road when it comes to using your body physically. The Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology (CSEP), recommends participating in muscle and bone strengthening activities using major muscle groups, at least 2 days per week. These activities may involve using weights, resistance bands, exercise machines and even your own body weight! Resistance training can improve muscle strength, size and tone as well as it helps strengthen bones, ligaments and tendons, essential for a person’s overall health.

In a study done by Hruda et al., (2003), frail participants aged 75-94 partook in a 10-week resistance training study. Over the 10 weeks, not only did they improve their muscle size and strength but their ability to perform activities of daily living as well. They gained independence by being able to stand longer, some climbed stairs for the first time in a while and others did not need assistance to get up from a seated position.

Beginning a resistance training routine can benefit everybody, men and women, no matter what stage you are starting from. It doesn’t have to be scary or complicated. Building muscle and gaining strength can be as easy as lifting soup cans, doing chair yoga, or practicing standing up from a chair repeatedly. Remember, older adults should always consult an Exercise Physiologist or their doctor before starting a new exercise program.


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