The loss of muscle mass that accompanies aging is one of the main causes of frailty in the elderly. This phenomenon, called sarcopenia, can however be largely prevented by regular physical activity throughout adulthood.

One of the most concrete effects of aging is undoubtedly the gradual reduction in strength and endurance of the body. In most people, muscle mass peaks in early adulthood and already begins to decline slightly between the ages of 30 and 40. This reduction in physical capacity is particularly ruthless for top-level professional athletes: with very few exceptions, these athletes cannot keep up with the pace imposed by the youngest and are forced to end their careers at the end of the thirties.

One of the main factors involved in this muscle loss is myostatin, a protein that blocks the biochemical mechanisms responsible for the production and growth of muscle cells. Since blood levels of myostatin gradually increase during aging, there is therefore a decrease in the regenerative capacity of the muscle and the appearance of scarring and fatty deposits in the muscle tissue.

Sarcopenia: 30 to 50% muscle loss between the ages of 40 and 80

While the gradual decrease in muscle mass during aging is a completely normal phenomenon, it can however accelerate much too quickly in sedentary people, who do not use their muscles on a regular basis. In these people, the loss of muscle mass can reach 1 to 2% per year from 50 to 60 years and 3 to 5% per year at older ages. Overall, an inactive person can therefore lose between 30 and 50% of their muscle mass between the ages of 40 and 80.

This excessive loss of muscle, known as sarcopenia, is a very serious medical problem that affects almost a third of the elderly population. On the one hand, sarcopenia leads to many physical problems, because the disappearance of a good part of the muscle mass causes people to become very frail, to tire quickly, and are consequently to decrease the quality of life and increase the risk of mortality.

Loss of muscle mass: not inevitable

The good news is that sarcopenia is not inevitable and can largely be prevented with proper diet and, most importantly, regular exercise. It is often said that what is not used is wasted and this is especially true for muscles. There is a veritable vicious circle of a sedentary lifestyle: the less you move, the less muscle you have and the less muscle you have, the less you move. Conversely, an active person regularly uses their muscles and manages to maintain a good balance between their muscle and fat mass. Physically active people also have lower myostatin levels, which partly counteracts the effect of this protein on muscle mass loss.

feel younger than their age

We live in a world where outward appearance, especially that of our skin, is often considered more important than inner well-being. This is especially true for aging: while society spends huge amounts of money each year on “anti-aging” medical products or procedures, only a minority of people adopt healthy lifestyle habits capable of slowing down the gradual deterioration of our functions. physiological that occurs with age.

The example of sarcopenia illustrates, however, to what extent it is this “inner aging” which is the main factor responsible for all the chronic diseases which reduce both life expectancy and quality of life. Healthy aging is therefore not looking younger than your age, but rather feeling younger than your age!


Denison HJ et al. Prevention and optimal management of sarcopenia: a review of combined exercise and nutrition interventions to improve muscle outcomes in older people. Clin Interv Aging 2015; 10: 859-869.

Cooper R et al. Objectively measured physical capability levels and mortality: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ