The negative effects of aging on the musculoskeletal system are well known and include a loss of bone density, as well as, muscle strength and mass. These effects begin in your 30s, but the speed of this loss is largely dependent on your health and activity level. More active adults who participate in both weekly aerobic and strength training sessions show a slower loss of muscle and strength over time compared to their sedentary peers. As you can imagine the former group also has a higher degree of function and independence in their lives. Activities of daily living (transferring between positions, walking, toileting, showering, grooming, dressing, and eating) are important measures of independence as we age and have been shown to accurate predict both future illness/injury and death.
A recent systematic review was completed to determine the relationship between an individual’s current strength and muscle mass and their future independence with ADLs (Wang et al. J Cachexia Sarcopenia Muscle. 2020). Authors included 83 articles on over 100,000 older adults with some long term studies collecting data up to 25 years from baseline. As expected, lower levels of strength, muscle mass, and physical performance were associated with future ADL dependency among older adults. It is likely those with lower physical capacities had a lower tolerance to the effects of the aging process and may have been more susceptible to diseases.
it is important to note that none of us will escape the effects of aging, but we can improve our odds of independence in two main ways with exercise. First, build up your strength and endurance when you are young, but it is never too late to start, to increase your current capacity. This will give you a higher functional starting point from which to lose strength and muscle mass. Second, and more importantly, begin or continue your current strength training routines to slow the slope of the decline due to aging.