Muscle Loss In Middle Age

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Fight muscle loss! Most people only focus on bone health, and as important as this is, let's not forget about muscles!

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We often only look at bone health in the context of the menopause and ageing. As important as this is, we mustn't forget our muscles! They form a supportive corset for our body, providing strength as well as flexibility and stability for our entire skeleton. They also fulfill important metabolic functions.

Muscles are sexy and important

You've probably noticed that muscular bodies tend to look slimmer and more shapely, even with a few extra kilos. Want an example? Do you remember Tina Turner's well-defined body? Exactly!

If we have too few muscles, we are more susceptible to injury. We also burn fewer calories and put on weight faster. Incidentally, age-related muscle atrophy is called sarcopenia.

How muscle mass decline in old age

We adults lose around 3 to 8% of our muscle mass every decade from the age of 30. This loss accelerates to 5 to 10% after the age of 50. This loss is particularly pronounced in women, especially during the menopause.

Research shows that 10% of muscle mass can be lost during the perimenopause alone. In the late perimenopause and in the postmenopause, the probability of sarcopenia, i.e. involuntary muscle loss, is significantly higher than in women before or in the early perimenopause.

At the same time, protein synthesis also deteriorates the older we get. In other words, our body's ability to convert proteins from food into lean muscle mass. However, proteins are the basic prerequisite for building muscle.

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Why are muscles so important?

It's important to note that this muscle loss is a big deal and should not be pushed further and further down your agenda. When we lose muscle and strength, we not only lose our speed and power in sport, but also in everyday life. If your muscles are replaced by fat as you get older, you lose not only your strength but also one of your most important energy burners, and the risk of abdominal fat is therefore increased.

Muscle loss also lends itself to increased insulin resistance, bone loss, the risk of fractures and the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

Three good reasons for strong muscles:

  • Muscles are our most important endocrine organ!
  • Less muscle mass means that you burn fewer calories even at rest. If you have more muscle mass, you can eat more! You don't have to pay quite as much attention to your calorie intake and can put away the odd guilty pleasure better.
  • Maintaining muscle mass as you age is a particularly good way to prevent bone loss and fractures in old age. Strong muscles protect bones and joints.

Muscles are more than just biceps

When it comes to muscles, don't just think of strong biceps or triceps. The so-called core muscles are an important element in our body.

A strong core is essential for our balance. This prevents the typical falls that often result in broken hips and other long-term damage. If you train your core muscles in particular, you not only strengthen your muscles, but also reduce harmful abdominal fat at the same time.

Because muscles are so important for independence and health in old age, the World Health Organisation recommends that all adults train the most important muscle groups at least twice a week at moderate or higher intensity. But especially for active women in and after the menopause, this recommendation should really be the minimum.

There are two things we can actively do to combat muscle loss:

1. Strength training: sport, in the form of strength training, helps to work the muscles and therefore build them up.

2. Proteins: a sufficient intake of proteins with every meal also builds muscle.

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The wonderful thing about muscles is that they respond when we use them. When you lift weights, your muscles inevitably get stronger.

This works as follows: intense training, specifically lifting heavy weights, damages the muscle. The muscle then changes in order to prevent future injuries. This sounds bad at first glance, but it is good and intentional. Intensive strength training, especially resistance training, increases your muscle mass over time. No matter how athletic or old you are.

Strength and resistance training to build muscle doesn't mean you have to become a weightlifter. Exercises that use your own body weight are also effective. They are usually performed standing up, such as squats and lunges. But they can also be done standing on four feet (hands and knees) or lying on your side (in the plank).

Remember: without targeted strength training, there is no muscle building! The WHO guideline recommending twice a week is probably not enough. It only helps a largely sedentary population to move and do the absolute minimum.

Would you rather be part of the new generation of active, sporty menopausal women who want to make the most of the years ahead of them? Then you need to do more than the minimum.


If possible, women in the perimenopause should practise strength training three days a week. Anyone doing strength training for the first time should work with a trainer to learn the correct technique.

Our bones adapt to the stresses to which they are exposed. This means that the bones become stronger when the load is increased. Exercises such as squats, bench presses and deadlifts with heavy weights provide the greatest stimulus for building strength. As a rule, 4 to 5 sets of 6 or fewer repetitions are performed.

Ideally, these are supplemented with other exercises such as lunges and rowing at a more moderate intensity (e.g. 3 sets of 8 repetitions). Does that sound complicated to you? 

The combination of high-intensity interval training, especially short sprint intervals, is particularly effective. Studies show that they help to increase muscle mass and simultaneously reduce body fat in menopausal women.

Don't be afraid of muscle mountains!

By the way, you don't have to be afraid of huge muscles. We women (unfortunately) rarely achieve this anyway. This is usually only achieved by female bodybuilders who train intensively and who also dehydrate their entire body before the competition.

The great news: it's never too late to start maintaining your muscles. "No matter how old or out of shape you are, you can regain a lot of the muscle strength you've already lost," says Marilyn Moffat, physiotherapist.

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In addition to muscle training, an adequate intake of protein is beneficial as it supports muscle building: "Protein works in synergy with exercise to increase muscle mass," says Dr John E. Morley, Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

We can only build muscle if we have the necessary amino acids in our bodies. We need to eat enough protein, especially because we can develop greater 'anabolic resistance' with age and during menopause - which means that our muscles are less sensitive to protein from food.

Unfortunately, the 'official' recommendations are still 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, which is far too little. This is only the minimum amount needed to prevent a deficiency in sedentary women. But it is by no means enough to build muscle! We know this thanks to numerous research findings.

Specifically for active women, the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends: "Daily protein intake should be in the mid to upper range of current sports nutrition guidelines (1.4-2.2 g/kg/day) for women in all phases of menstruation (pre-, peri-, postmenopausal and contraceptive users), with protein doses distributed evenly every 3 to 4 hours throughout the day."

You can find more information in our article: Women over 40 should make sure they get enough protein.

So treat yourself to a protein smoothie every morning or supplement your muesli with protein powder. Try a smoothie with kale, as kale in combination with plant-based proteins is perfect for building muscle and strengthening bones. 


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Ko J, Park YM. Menopause and the loss of skeletal muscle mass in women. Iranian journal of public health. Februar 2021. doi:10.18502/ijph.v50i2.5362

Volpi E, Nazemi R, Fujita S. Muscle tissue changes with aging. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. 2004;7(4):405-410. doi:10.1097/01.mco.0000134362.76653.b2

Preventing Muscle Loss as We Age, New York Times 2018

Osteopenia: When you have weak bones, but not osteoporosis, Harvard Health Publishing

Fitness Tips for Menopause,

High-Intensity Resistance and Impact Training Improves Bone Mineral Density and Physical Function in Postmenopausal Women With Osteopenia and Osteoporosis J Bone Miner Res. 2018 Feb;33(2):211-220. doi: 10.1002/jbmr.3284. Epub 2017 Oct 4.

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