Sarcopenia Kills Dreams

A man and woman laying in bed smiling for the camera.

A man’s health can be judged by which he takes two at a time – pills or stairs.
~Joan Welsh

Sarcopenia is the degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass (0.5–1% loss per year after the age of 50), quality, and strength associated with aging.



Along with their parents, many of the Baby Boom generation tuned into black and white images of a handsome, sincere, high-energy-buffed-guy in a tight-fitting jumpsuit, giving motivational chats, leading invigorating workouts, encouraging deep breathing and healthy living; all accompanied by lively organ music. His name was Jack Lalane and he was the pioneer of the fitness industry before it was cool.

The sets were simple (a steel office chair and a poster board) but the concepts were not–and they still ring true today. Jack Lalane was right; he knew that many people’s lives were just suicide on the installment plan. Jack recognized our changing disease states which have gone from acute (i.e., pneumonia which was once called “the old man’s friend”), to chronic (i.e., diabetes which isn’t cured only managed over long periods at great costs); and many were due simply to neglect.

Functional Aging

Aging in place requires more than just making a few simple changes such as replacing doorknobs with pull handles or installing ramps and no-step thresholds. These strategies are important, but functional aging is a key element in extending independence.

Essential to staying mobile is the ability to ambulate (walk) and this depends on muscle strength. Sarcopenia is the medical term for loss of skeletal muscle mass, or muscle function, and this alone increases the risk for losing physical independence in older adults.

Lalanne described “functional aging” in his The Hands of Time episode. The goal was to die “young,” as late in life as possible…which is really the difference between extending life vs. extending health–they are not the same thing.

Biomarkers of Aging

Further, much attention has been paid lately to the biomarkers of aging and how they can be affected by lifestyle. One key biomarker (measurable physiological factor related to aging) is aerobic capacity. Aerobic capacity (age and weight specific) is how exercise physiologist measure uptake and utilization of oxygen by the body; the term used is VO2max. This is an essential factor for aging in place as well, because if you have a VO2max of less than 10ml/kg/min you can’t live independently at home because of the inability to do activities of daily living (ADLs).

The Bad News
As we age, under normal conditions (meaning no underlying diseases like lung cancer) our VO2max after age 30 decreases by 1% each year. So a 70-year-old has a 40% decrease in VO2max.

The Good News
Exercise can decrease that 1% yearly decline in VO2max after age 30, by half. So, a 70-year-old may only experience a 20% decrease in VO2max.

So, while you’re doing that elder-friendly home evaluation, embracing the concept of universal design, emphasizing fall prevention, comparison shopping-remodelers, and staying aware of public trends…PLEASE don’t overlook taking care of yourself physically (and mentally).  As Jack might say; you know students, your body needs to be available to you…

Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.

-Jim Rohn


Fitness Over 50 (Places Like FOF are your best allies for Aging in Place)

O2max testing

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