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How to lose a decades worth of muscle mass in 14 days and why you shouldn't do it.

Have you ever heard about sarcopenia? It means poverty of flesh or poverty of strength.

After the age of 30 we lose between 3-8% of our muscle mass per decade.

This picture shows how a cross section of a person's thigh can look as we age - but as you can you see with the 74 year old athlete it doesn't have to be. (note the dark areas are the muscle and the light areas are fat and connective tissue)

There is an association of a loss of muscle mass with many different disease processes. Some may be because of the problem, whilst others may be as a consequence of the disease.

A simple example of this is that with muscle loss comes a loss of balance and an increased incidence of falls.

What perhaps is even more shocking is the slide below - that the increased risk of death in the weakest third of the population once over 60 is more than double that of the strongest third.

Which third would you rather be in?

Now most of us think as we age that we are past our best and that perhaps we can't change it.

Well thankfully that is baloney - and you most definitely can.

The fad of the 10000 steps per day is a great start - but it alone isn't the answer

Dr Brendan Egan - the presenter of this talk gives an example of whereby some college students were restricted to 2000 steps per day for 14 days and there muscle mass was measured before and after.

These were young healthy males in their 20’s. They lost 5% of their muscle mass within 14 days!!!

An elderly person over 70 that is immobilised over a period of 10 days was shown to lose 10% of their muscle mass.

In 10 Days!!!!!!!

More than a decade's loss within 10 days.

No wonder people can feel so weak after a period of illness - even if it is just a bad flu.

So at least doing the 10000 steps a day is a good start.

But walking by itself doesn't cut it - you need to actually increase the demands on your body so that the muscles have to adapt to the new stimulus and grow.

But all is not lost.

And that's the bit i want you to think about.

So many times i see patients with back pain that have been so limited by their pain and restriction that they have become terribly deconditioned.

Muscles are just not working like they should and it is sad to see the limitation this puts on their lifestyle.

I am sure you have all seen it.

People, sometimes quite young, unable to easily get themselves out of a chair let alone off the floor. And sometimes this is not because it is painful - but because there is absolutely no strength in their muscles.

And it is easy to think that this isn’t happening to you.

But in most cases it is.

I know it was happening to me.

Over the last year i have made at first small and then slowly larger commitments to moving better and building strength and function - and the change in what i can do and how i feel has been fantastic.

It doesn't have to be difficult and it doesn't have to involve gym memberships - but it does take an effort.

This final example from the talk is of an 85 year old who did 12 weeks of training that concentrated on the quadricep muscles. The individual shown increased his muscle mass by over 40 % and strength by over 55% - all in 12 weeks.

You can visually see the difference in the cross section of the thigh shown on the left of the slide below.

So what else can you do other than walking?

Well the good news is that simple body weight resistance exercise can be a fantastic place to start.

This can be simple things like lunges, squats onto a chair step ups and even the old favourite pushups.

Studies of people over 60 who did 3 x per week of 30 minutes of bodyweight exercise for 12 weeks had a 3% increase in muscle mass.

At Body and Spine Solutions we are making a real effort to get this type of message across. If you look at our website and our Facebook site we are constantly adding new information and advice for you to learn from all designed to keep you moving.

Thanks for reading

Andrew Blyth

Body and Spine Solutions Orange

In the meantime watch the Ted Talk below -

Dr Brendan Egan is a University College Dublin (UCD) lecturer in sport and exercise science in the UCD School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Population Science, whose TEDxUCD 2014 talk is entitled 'Muscle Matters'.

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