After age 40, it is generally known that we lose muscle mass and thereby we lose strength and independence. Generally it is thought that we lose 8% of our muscle mass per decade after 40. We’ve all known 1 or 2 individuals who maintained a vigorous level of fitness into their 70s or 80s, but they were rare exceptions. Once the hands of time begin to set in, generally things slow down.
Wroblewski et al 2011 have published a great study! They recruited 5 men and 5 women for each decade 40-49, 50-59, 60-69 and >70. All of these individuals competed in their sports (track and field, cycling, and swimming) at the masters’ level. Peak quadriceps torque, quadriceps area, a cross-sectional magnetic resonance image and body fat % were used as well as a lifestyle questionnaire. All of these individuals reported exercise at least 4 days a week and the average was 5.
Interestingly, the effect of chronic exercise on the elderly is not only profound but can be measured in decades! Men and women in their late 70s and early 80s were performing like sedentary men and women in their 60s in terms of strength. Run times among the athletic population did not drop significantly from 50-75.
Overall, the baseline sedentary men lost 25% of their muscle mass over 30 years while those who exercised only lost 12%! That is half the muscle mass lost! This lends credibility to the fact that exercise into our golden years will keep us both independent and young. To be as fit as a 60 year old at 80- just keep training 5 days a week, eat right and sleep well, your body will do the rest.