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Muscle quality more important than quantity for older adults

August 20, 2013

There's often a great focus on the quantity of muscles among the younger generations, but new research suggests that as they age, they may want to shift their attention to muscle quality. The study, performed by scientists at the University of Montreal, found that seniors who maintain better muscle quality, which refers to the ratio of strength to muscle mass, enjoyed better physical function and were more able to enjoy independent living.

The findings, which were published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, are based on an analysis of the muscle mass and quality of more than 1,200 women aged 75 and older. Among the most significant results was that participants with poorer muscle quality have a three to six times greater chance of developing some form of physical limitation, meaning they could encounter trouble walking, getting up from a chair or climbing stairs.

"These results contradict what has been believed for a long time about muscles and aging. Many seniors, whom we often perceive as frail and fragile, can surprise us by their muscle strength. Although inevitable, age-related muscle loss [a normal process called 'sarcopenia'] should no longer be seen as a sign of weakness," said study leader Mylène Aubertin-Leheudre.

While physical activity has long been recognized as a hallmark of healthy aging, these findings could encourage seniors and health care professionals to place a greater emphasis on muscle quality. According to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults 65 and older should participate in two days of muscle-building activity each week in addition to the recommended 150 minutes of aerobic exercise.