January 15, 2021
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Use it or lose it- Muscle mass as you age 

By: Julie Ann Soukoulis
September 21, 2018

A recent study could help convince seniors of the value of exercise, particularly programs that increase muscle mass.

New research has found that if seniors want to prolong their lives and, especially, avoid cardiovascular disease, they need to put their efforts toward maintaining muscle mass as they age, rather than focusing on weight loss. As a matter of fact, this new research applies even to seniors who have high cardiovascular risk.  

Having a high level of muscle mass helps reduce risk of death, regardless of body fat, says this new study on the importance of assessing body composition as a way to help predict cardiovascular and total mortality in people with cardiovascular disease, which most often are senior citizens.  Ideally you want to rely on your muscular system instead of your skeletal system to move you around.

By the time you turn 30, your muscles grow larger and stronger. But at some point, in your 30s you start to lose muscle mass and function.  Physically inactive people can lose as much as 3 to 5 percent of their muscle mass each decade after age 30. Even if you are active, you’ll still have some muscle loss.

Researchers from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA found that cardiovascular disease patients who have high muscle mass and low-fat mass have a lower mortality risk than those with other body compositions. Their findings also suggest that regardless of a person’s level of fat mass, a higher level of muscle mass helps reduce the risk of death.


The researchers examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999 to 2004, of 6,451 participants who had prevalent cardiovascular disease.

Each subject was categorized into one of four groups:

low muscle/low fat mass

low muscle/high fat mass

high muscle/low fat mass

high muscle/high fat mass 

Those with high muscle mass and low-fat mass had the lowest risk of cardiovascular and total mortality.

As we age we need to build strength, mobility and better balance to keep us independent longer.   There are many ways for seniors to improve health and remain independent at home. Why not consider the Rohnert Park Senior Center? They offer several different types of exercise classes for all levels of activity. Rohnert Park also offers several athletic clubs, Tai chi classes, sit and be fit classes, yoga studios, CrossFit clubs or try swimming.   Don’t forget the SRJC older adult programs offer many more opportunities such as folk dancing. The goal is to find what interests you and do it!

Your activities to build muscle can be an everyday activity such as gardening.  Not a gardener. Try watching YouTube videos at home and following along. The point is, get up and start moving or better yet, never stop moving!  You should inquire with your doctor first before beginning any strenuous activity outside your norm.

Keeping an older adult’s mind, body and social life active can prevent or even reverse frailty and family caregivers assisting seniors are in a unique position to help them figure out what activities will work best. According to Stephanie Studenski, M.D., M.P.H., one of the nation’s foremost authorities on mobility, balance disorders and falls in older adults, “A key is simple activities that seniors find pleasurable or enjoyable.”

It’s the kind of news that could help Mom or Dad get moving! Seniors – even those diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) – could stop cognitive decline with an exercise program of moderate intensity, according to a new study.

It is the first research to discover that exercise and improved fitness can impact cortical thickness in the brains of older adults diagnosed with MCI.

The recent study finds older adults that improved their fitness through a moderate intensity exercise program increased the thickness of their brain’s cortex, the outer layer of the brain that typically atrophies with dementia illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease, according to research from the University of Maryland School of Public Health. These effects were found in both healthy older adults and those diagnosed with MCI, an early stage of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Exercise may help to reverse neurodegeneration and the trend of brain shrinkage that we see in those with MCI and Alzheimer’s,” says Dr. J. Carson Smith, associate professor of kinesiology and senior author of the study, published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.

“Many people think it is too late to intervene with exercise once a person shows symptoms of memory loss, but our data suggest that exercise may have a benefit in this early stage of cognitive decline.”

If a senior is healthy enough for activities, encourage him or her to keep moving. Go to for tips on senior activities. 

 Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern?  She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime