It’s terrible, but true. As we age, we become weaker. Sure, as we get older we start to slow down a little bit, and maybe become a bit more sedentary. But these lifestyle changes are not the only reason why we don’t get up from the floor as easily as we used to, or why lifting that heavy suitcase into trunk is a little more difficult. We get weaker as we get older due to normal physiological changes of our skeletal muscles and guess what?! Believe it or not, that decline begins in our 30s with an average lean muscle mass loss of 3-8% per decade.
This means that as we age, muscles of the arms, legs, neck and trunk begin to atrophy (aka shrink). Along with this decrease in muscle mass, the speed and force of muscle contractions are reduced. This phenomenon is called sarcopenia, and it results in a decline of physical strength throughout middle age. After the age of 60, loss of muscle tissue and strength can accelerate quite dramatically.
Beyond a decline in strength, a reduction in muscle mass leads to a progressive reduction in the support afforded to bones and joints. This in turn contributes to postural changes and increases the risk of joint pathologies, especially osteoarthritis, as well as the risk of falls and fractures.
So, what’s a person to do?? One activity that should be high on everyone’s list is YOGA! For those who have taken a Jivamukti, Ashtanga or power-type yoga class you can probably attest to the fact that the more you practice, the stronger you get. Here at YogiAnatomy, we personally know that to be true, but we also like to share the science.
Using maximum voluntary isometric contractions (MVIC) Beazley et al (2017) and Ni et al (2104) found that Plank causes a high MVIC for the abdominal oblique muscles which means that this pose can strengthen your core, while Chair Pose packs a punch for your back extensors. These muscles are especially important for managing back pain and postural changes as we age. Ni (2014) also found that Downward Facing Dog and Warrior 1 require a high MVIC of the gluteus maximus, the major muscle for hip extension and an important muscle for functional mobility.
Regular yoga practice has also been found to be extraordinarily beneficial for older women diagnosed with sarcopenia (Pandya, 2019). The practice, which included Sun Salutation, Tree Pose, and Half-Moon, Eagle, Bow, Half-Spinal Twist, Cow-Face, Lotus and Plough, depending on ability, resulted in improvements in dynamic gait, functional strength (chair stand test and arm curl) as well as the 6-minute walk test and balance.
Remember that if you’re over 30, you’re likely getting weaker by the decade. The good news is, it’s never too early or too late to start practicing yoga.
Beazley, DA, Patel, S, Davis, B, Vinson, S, & Bolgla, LA (2017). Trunk and hip muscle activation during yoga poses in untrained individuals, Annals of Yoga and Physical Therapy, 2 (4), 1033.
Pandya, SP (2019). Yoga education program for older women diagnosed with sarcopenia: A multi city 10-year follow-up experiment, Journal of Women & Aging, 31(5), 446-469.