Muscle Mass and Strength: Top Two Biomarkers of Aging

Live Like You Can

By Janis McDonald

Recently, I shared the study that ignited a huge shift in thinking about how we age and how strength training can postpone entry into the disability zone. In 1992 William Evans, PhD, and Dr. Irwin Rosenberg at Tufts University USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging conducted the first ever study of men in their 90s and intense strength training. The results with 173% average upper and 400% average lower body strength gained. were astonishing

In fact, today when people as old as 100 get involved in a weight-training program, they can triple their strength, improve their balance, and increase their overall activity level while reducing their risk of falling down. Clearly, the earlier strength training is started, the greater the effect. However, research shows that starting after 70 can still bring significant results and extend life expectancy.

Dr. Evans states, “My book, Biomarkers: The 10 Keys to Prolonging Vitality, is based on my hypothesis that these 10 biological markers that have been thought to occur as a result of chronological age are, in fact, a product of how we live our lives. These biomarkers include muscle mass, strength, basal metabolic rate, aerobic capacity, blood pressure, insulin action, HDL to total cholesterol ratio, bone density, and ability to control body temperature. Our study contradicts the common observation that muscle mass and strength decline as a function of aging alone. Instead, these declines may signal the effect of chronic disuse rather than muscle aging. Maintenance of muscle mass and strength may decrease or eliminate falls, functional decline, and loss of independence that are commonly seen in aging adults.”

The old paradigm about aging states that after 45, our muscles and strength decline sharply. We know now that this paradigm is wrong! If muscles are used frequently, they can maintain their strength, and when muscles are pushed to the limit of their capacity, a resulting “increase” in strength will happen, no matter  your age.

To maintain or rebuild muscle mass and strength, effective resistance training is the only way to bring results. The amount of weight should “fatigue” the muscles after 10 lifts. Lifting the same weight 20 times will not bring an increase in muscle or strength. Remember that each individual who begins a strength-training program may start with different physical issues that may require modification, a beginning lower intensity, and possibly a doctor’s clearance.

Going to a gym is optional. Many strength-building programs can begin at home with slow pushups, chair squats, dips, and planks. You may be thinking, “I can’t do one repetition of any of these!” All you might need are instructions on modifying the exercise in order to challenge you where you are now.

Bottom line, the first two biomarkers are seen as the pillars of vitality that support the rest of the indicators of aging. The good news is that loss of muscle mass and strength is not inevitable. It can be maintained or regained with exercise. Increasing muscle will most likely support the remaining eight biomarkers.

Stay tuned for how muscle mass impacts aerobic capacity and basal metabolic rate, our next two biomarkers.

Janis McDonald, Professional Certified Wellness Coach, Functional Aging Trainer, Private Gym (152-0457). Follow the Live Like You Can Blog, go to


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