We all fear loss of strength and competence that might occur if we were to actually get older. We’ve probably all heard, and seen ourselves, that people lose muscle mass and bone with advancing age. Its depressing. While ignoring it and putting concerns aside works pretty well generally speaking, its nice when evidence supports our drive and desire to have a good time while staying strong. Exercise prevents much of the muscle loss seen in older people. A lot of the muscle loss observed in seniors may simply be due to chronic inactivity. Its difficult to separate inactivity from any inevitable loss of strength in research studies, since many people become inactive with age. The study referenced below used highly active athletes aged 40-81 and evaluated their health/activity, body composition, quadriceps peak torque, and made magnetic resonance images of bilateral quadriceps, Mid-thigh muscle area, quadriceps area, subcutaneous adipose tissue, and intramuscular adipose tissue. Mid-thigh muscle area and quadriceps peak torque did not decline with age. Specific strength did not decline with age either. Good news. And a little bad news. There are changes in performance with age. One important one appears to be slowed reaction time. This means slower running and slower lifts. It is quite possible that loss of speed is a major factor in the amount of weight you can lift. Hopefully as the Crossfit Games continue to evolve, we will see scaling for Masters in line with physiological factors.
|graph from Korhonen et al. 2009.|
KORHONEN, M., MERO, A., ALÉN, M., SIPILÄ, S., HÄKKINEN, K., LIIKAVAINIO, T., VIITASALO, J., HAVERINEN, M., & SUOMINEN, H. (2009). Biomechanical and Skeletal Muscle Determinants of Maximum Running Speed with Aging Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 41 (4), 844-856 DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181998366
Wroblewski, A., Amati, F., Smiley, M., Goodpaster, B., & Wright, V. (2011). Chronic Exercise Preserves Lean Muscle Mass in Masters Athletes The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 39 (3), 172-178 DOI: 10.3810/psm.2011.09.1933