News & Insights 22 February 2021

Declining muscle mass and strength is not an inevitable part of ageing

It is well established that physical activity plays a key protective role against a variety of diseases including coronary heart disease, obesity and hypertension, but an emerging body of evidence also demonstrates the importance of keeping moving on preventing sarcopenia. Sarcopenia, a word derived from the Greek “sarco” meaning flesh and “penia” meaning deficiency, refers to the loss of muscle mass and strength and is one of the primary reasons for falls. When considering that these falls are the number one cause of accidental death in those over 65, the importance of preventing sarcopenia is clear.

A sedentary lifestyle has clear associations with the development of sarcopenia, with individuals who sit for more than 8 hours a day having significantly lower muscular function in comparison to those sitting for less than 6 hours a day. Such consequences were found to be long-term as an average of 12.3 years existed between baseline and follow-up measures. This growing public health problem will continue to develop, in part due to our ageing population, if ignored. Research suggests that by the age of 70 we have lost around 12% of our muscle mass, increasing to 30% by 80, but that the rate of decline can be heavily influenced by our levels of activity.

Functional decline as we age is not inevitable. Research by Pollock and colleagues shows that changes in agEing are complex and interactive, and their conclusions provide an important, empowering message that our future is affected by our own efforts. Engaging in physical activity the best way to maintain and improve your physical health at any age and it’s entirely in your control.

Loss of muscle mass can have vast implications regarding an individual’s ability to perform everyday tasks due to various mechanisms including a loss of balance and reduced mobility. A cascade effect then follows, leading to reduced independence and ultimately a lower quality of life. Additionally, sarcopenia is associated with inflammation, insulin resistance and chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and pulmonary disease.

However, this doesn’t mean an existing sedentary lifestyle needs to dictate your future health. Research has also found that previously sedentary individuals saw the greatest benefits when increasing their activity. Incorporating an additional 48 minutes of physical activity across the week resulted in the greatest reduction in disability risk – that equates to adding just 7 minutes of extra activity into each day! Even taking frequent breaks during period of sitting, whether that be getting up from your desk to get a coffee or walking to the kitchen during the adverts of your favourite TV show, is positively associated with improved muscular function.

Notably, a meta-analysis by Steffl and colleagues (2017) highlights that the type of physical activity undertaken does not have any significant influence on the prevention of sarcopenia. Any movement, be that general housework, light gardening, walking the dog or an exercise class, engages your muscles and works to retain your crucial muscular strength, mass and function to ensure you can maintain your independence as you age.

Considering physical activity outside of the traditional exercise context opens up a whole new opportunity for movement, enabling you to make the most out of your everyday activities. The important thing is finding out what works for you. Activity that you enjoy doing is the best kind and will also be the most sustainable! As Lee and colleagues emphasise, it is the continuous implementation of this physical activity that is central to maintaining this muscular strength, not the activity itself.

At KiActiv®, we champion this approach, ensuring you understand the value of your everyday movement and how this can positively impact both your current and future health. Engaging in physical activity is crucial for healthy ageing, ensuring we retain our strength, mobility and balance into older age is crucial for maintaining our independence, reducing disabilities and preventing a rapid deterioration in health. Ultimately, the goal is to sit less and move more and however you achieve that is entirely up to you – there is no right or wrong way to be active. Taking control of your health now can help you to live a longer, happier and healthier life!

The KiActiv® Team