Sarcopenia, Not Cancer, But a Deadly Word

Can you improve muscle mass even as you age? As Mickey Mantle, star player of the New York Yankees, remarked, “If I knew I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.” Such is my worry in my 99th year.
I was recently having more difficulty getting up from chairs and recalling patients who admitted they could no longer stand up from the toilet seat. They had slowly developed “sarcopenia”, weakened muscles from aging that robs one’s independence.
Sarcopenia begins at about age 45 and causes skeletal muscle mass and strength decline at a rate of about one percent a year. By age 65, people who spend most of their time inactive on the sofa watching television have lost half of their muscle tissue! Losing muscle mass equates to getting weaker.
Deteriorating muscles mean less and less mobility. Moreover, weakened muscles are a risk factor for serious injuries, such as from a fall. The harder collapse can make head injuries more likely, for example. For the elderly, this can sometimes mean death in a matter of days.
Women should take great precaution. Why? Because they tend to start out with and maintain less muscle mass than males. More women also live longer than men, so there’s more time to develop sarcopenia.
What did I decide to do about sarcopenia? Certainly not make the mistake of Mickey Mantel and wait too long. Nor is it a good idea to start the wrong type of exercise.
For instance, there’s no sense in rushing out to purchase running shoes. Research has shown that joggers are not protected from sarcopenia. In fact, people who were runners in their youth can be at greater risk of sarcopenia if they don’t take up exercises that focus on preservation of muscle and bone. Running is not the answer for the aging body.
I am glad to know this as I’ve never seen a happy jogger. Rather, they always appear as they’re about to leave this planet.
The best defence against muscle loss is good nutrition and moderate weight training. For years, I’ve kept small weights on my desk. I’m careful to focus on consistency, not infrequent bouts of lifting too much weight in a show of strength. Research has shown that through moderate weightlifting, people between 62 and 72 years of age can double their strength in 12 weeks of training.
It’s a problem though when boredom sets in with lifting weights. Yet the growing challenge of getting up from a deep sofa can motivate a new routine. I decided to try another method to fight sarcopenia.
I remembered that years ago Charles Atlas, an expert in bodybuilding, created a following of famous people who swore by his method. Joe DiMaggio, the New York Yankee baseball player, was a fan. And who would be foolish enough to pick a fight with another follower of Atlas, heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Louis?
Atlas called his technique “Dynamic Therapy” (DT). I decided to find out how it would affect my biceps muscles.
The good news is there’s no need to purchase equipment. Very simply, DT, now called isometric exercise, pits individual muscles against each other, again and again. Just clench one fist, then the opposite one, and push against each other for 10 seconds. You can do this simple exercise several times a day. I noticed improved strength in my biceps within one month.
Don’t wait until you can’t get up from a chair. Maintain your strength and enjoy better quality of life.
Sign-up at to receive our weekly e-newsletter. For comments, Follow us on Instagram @docgiff and @diana_gifford_jones