How much should elderly sport to prevent muscle decline?

When not using your muscles for a while, you will soon find out that they decrease. Without help an astronaut who spent months in weightlessness,   cannot get out of his spaceship. He has no strength in his muscles to stand firm. The plaster cast that protects a broken arm is too big after a few days by the shrinking, disused muscles. Especially the elderly see their muscle mass decrease each year. For them, it can be dangerous:  it could make them fall; many eventually can barely handle the stairs any more. How sports should help elderly to compensate for muscle decay?

“The shrinking of the muscles comes with aging, but it already starts from our 30th,” Andrea Maier says, professor of aging at the University of Amsterdam. From Australia – where she beside her job in Amsterdam works at the University of Melbourne – Maier points to an obvious remedy: movement. “But many people do not want to hear that they have to sport. They prefer a drug that they have to swallow every day, to increase their muscle mass. “

Maier is involved in a product that may actually be the first good candidate. “The drug decreases the breakdown of muscle tissue. After three months, the healthy elderly had significantly more muscle mass than the control group – no extra training was required. The drug, which was tested worldwide in almost a thousand healthy elderly people, had no side effects. Still, Maier does not see it as the solution to the muscle decline problem: “It was a very slight increase in muscle mass that we found and the elderly did not jump around suddenly, nor climbed directly up the stairs.” In addition, the elderly will still have to continue sports – you cannot constantly keep swallowing such an expensive drug.


Older people, who want to exercise indeed, must pay attention to nutrition. Professor of Nutrition of the elderly Lisette de Groot saw that in her research in 2013. More than sixty ‘frail elderly’ were asked to train twice a week. “For this one of our classrooms was converted into power base,” de Groot says. They were followed half a year; half of the participants were given an extra dose of proteins at breakfast and lunch. ‘The control group received no additional proteins with the meals. “The outcome was astounding. Elderly who sported and consumed extra proteins saw their muscle strength increase by an average of 40 percent and their muscle mass by 1.3 kilograms. The muscle mass of the control group decreased, despite training in the classroom. “Sports without adjusting the diet has no sense for these frail elderly,” concludes de Groot.


How is that possible? To build muscle you need to eat well, something that young people often do anyway. Older people, who are bedridden, often eat less. If they work out at no extra feeding, their body begins to use existing muscles as fuel for new muscles. They consume their own muscles.

With proper nutrition, Maier encourages older people, three times a week to do an hour of weight training. After three months, on average, the older will reach the correct muscle mass, showed one of her investigations. But also here a hearty breakfast was indispensable: comprising four sandwiches with cheese and three eggs. That will help.