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CARVILLE: Gauging your strength loss

We know we lose strength as we age. The percentage of strength loss (muscle loss) can be dramatic, but we often do not recognize the amount of loss because it is gradual and we tend not to lift/move the same sort of things we did when we were young.

Your Muscle History

From your infancy until the time you are about 30, your muscles grow larger and stronger. But somewhere in your mid-30’s you start to lose muscle mass (sarcopenia) and function. If you are physically inactive, you can lose 5-10 percent of muscle mass each decade. Even active people will lose muscle mass but not to the same extent as the physically inactive.



Let’s say you are 70 years of age. You will have lost 25 to 40 percent of your strength. Many people have lost much more. An audiologist friend of mine, says that over 50 percent of her over-70 patients cannot get up from a reclining position unless assisted. That happens because the rate of loss increases after age 70 or so. What a horrible situation and such a loss of independence.

Gauging the Loss




Well how do you gauge the loss? There many day-to-day ways to do it. For myself, I found several recently… and I tend to stay fairly active.

One: I felt my handshake was still ‘manly’ and firm. I tested it on my son, Mike. I squeezed as hard as I could, waiting for him to wince… he didn’t.

“Well, how hard was that grip?”

“Not very hard” was his casual reply.

Well, that took me back a few paces.

Two: I had some DeWalt battery-operated tools. The DeWalt batteries must be pinched simultaneously from both sides in order to release from the tool. Well, what was easy many years ago is now difficult. I could not pinch the battery sufficiently to remove it. My solution was to replace my DeWalt tools with Makita battery tools which do not required the ‘two-finger pinch’ (Makita must have done some older-demographic market research).

Three: While dribbling (not yet saliva) around and shooting hoops at the South Yuba Club outdoor courts, I discovered something daunting. I have not played real basketball since my college days, but I remember that I was pretty good. Well, I had to really exert some ‘push’ the ball to the rim. I don’t remember taking that much ‘oomph’ to shoot buckets 50 years ago.

All three of these are just daily examples of muscle loss. Remember that after 70 years of age, the rate of loss accelerates.

SO What CAN YOU do?

You know what to do. Be active.

Lift weights, use the indoor rowing machine, swim, walk-run on the treadmill, use the new free-motion cable-machines for more natural muscle movement. Play tennis, pickleball or some golf.

I play golf once a week with a dozen guys who range from late-60s to early 90s. These guys are active. One, Don Curry, a retired Air Force Colonel, will be 90 in a couple of months. He has a cart but still prefers to walk the first nine holes. What a guy! As he says, “I can still put my pants on in the morning… standing up.” Ain’t no small feat for many of us.

Your best option for getting the appropriate, physical program for your specific needs and limitations is to see a qualified personal trainer in a gym environment. Don’t see ‘anyone’ who calls him/her self a trainer. They can hurt you. Get a certified, knowledgeable professional to set up the program that is right for you.

You can’t return to your ‘20s,’ but you will have better results shaking hands, removing batteries and shooting hoops… and just living your life.

Phil Carville specializes in senior fitness. He is a co-owner of the South Yuba Club and can be contacted at philc@southyubaclub.com.


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