The Old, The Skinny And The Muscle Lost


Often wondered how come the elderly in Western societies were so skinny with little or no muscle mass. As most people age entering their 60s, 70s, 80s and sometimes 90s, they become essentially a skeleton with skin stretched across a small layer of fat. Most without exception have little or no muscle. They suffer from severe muscle wasting called sarcopenia.
My elderly relatives are prime examples. They have little strength and almost zero muscle mass. They struggle to walk any distance, carry heavy shopping, climb stairs, enter and exit the bus, and so on. Using the ubiquitous walking stick to aid locomotion. Why is it here in the west we are so weak and feeble as we age?

In Japan and China the elderly exercise, doing Tai Chi, and other martial arts to stay firm and healthy. In the West, the elderly play golf, bowls and watch TV.
To maintain health, strength and fitness, its essential for exercise to stress the musculature sufficiently to retain and maintain muscle mass. That means weight-lifting.
Weight Lifting To Counter Sarcopenia
For most people weight lifting immediately throws up images of bodybuilders with bulging biceps, inflated pecs and rippling six-pack abs. Not all weight training results in balloon like muscles.
When you climb stairs, climb out the bath tub, get out of bed, rise out of a chair or off the sofa, these are all weight lifting. The muscles used are lifting your body weight. If you weigh 150 lbs, climbing stairs, your legs lift your body-weight (150 lbs) up the next step. That's weight-lifting. Climbing out the bath tub, you use arms and legs to lift 150 lbs back to vertical. Same applies getting up from the sofa or chair. Do a push up, your arms are pushing around 80lbs.
Lifting your body weight, places muscle under a less intense load for a shorter period of time. During a weight-lifting session, you work the muscle to exhaustion.
Hard weight-lifting sessions once or twice a week, will sufficiently stress muscle to ensure the body responds by rebuilding or growing the muscle placed under load.
Regularly placing muscle under a heavy load, will ensure you maintain muscle mass into old-age and not suffer a feeble lack of strength.

Ageing And Diet

Elders in hunter / gatherer tribes don't experience muscle wasting to the same degree as the West. They continue to hunt, stalk and kill game and consume a high fat and protein diet. In the West we eat too many carbohydrates and not enough protein. A high carb diet is fine if you're running, swimming or cycling miles each day. You can burn off all that sugar. If you lead a sedentary lifestyle, as most people do, your body cannot utilize the sugar you're consuming.
Our protein intake is way too low for most people, and particularly the elderly.
To repair and maintain muscle mass, the body needs around 1 gram of protein for each 1 lb of lean body weight.
I asked an elderly relative to recount for me the food she eats in a day. She is in her late 70s. I was shocked at how little protein she consumed. It went something like this:

1 banana

1 bowl porridge with milk

1 tea with milk


1 toasted cheese or ham sandwich

1 apple

1 small low-fat yogurt

1 tea with milk


1 pasta with cheese

1 small bowl grapes or strawberries

1 small cake or chocolate bar

1 tea with milk


1 small chocolate

1 glass water
I calculated she consumed around 25 grams of protein daily, which is 1/3 of what her body needs for maintenance. She eats little meat, eggs or fish. The only exercise she gets is walking to the bus stop or the local shops.
She is thin and frail with little muscle and no strength.