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Straight, No Chaser: Life Begins (To End) at 40 (Unless It Doesn’t) – The Musculoskeletal System

By Jeffrey Sterling, MD September 22, 2018

Physical Therapist Working with Patient
The second part of this series is about your muscles. This section combined with the previous skin section explains why you wrinkle. As before, I’m going to go through system – changes – challenges – solutions. If you’re keeping score, especially focus on the take home messages within solutions. I welcome any questions or comments.
Changes: Did you know that muscle cells are unable to replace themselves once they are formed? Therefore, muscle cell loss is permanent. Plus, muscular response gradually slows with age. That said, the loss of muscular capabilities over time is by far the result of cell loss due to inactivity. As muscle cells are lost, weakness and slowness increase. Plus, some of you don’t exercise at all, or as much/vigorously as you used to, so you’re not building up anything new.
Challenges: The effects of these changes on our health status are mostly due to the fact that the muscles are the main tools for effecting strong circulation throughout the body (i.e. muscular contraction pushes blood around). As the muscles become smaller, including the muscles in the face, and as fat tissue accumulates, including in the face, the entire appearance changes to that of an older person, with all the ramifications described in the post on the description of skin changes with aging. In addition, as muscle fibers decrease, weaken, and slow, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep up with younger people, who may make allowances, but who may also become avoidant. Your recognition of this creates a vicious cycle, and you eventually settle into ‘being old’.
Solutions: In two words – exercise & activity. A well designed, consistently followed exercise program addressing both strength and response is indispensable for the maintenance of muscle cells, and of good health over time. A personal trainer is a pretty good idea after a certain age. You neither need to under nor overdo your weight lifting regimen. In any event, move those muscles as much as you can, whether via walking, yoga, running or sex. Being a couch potato is never a good thing.
Post-scripts:

  • Another thing that very few of us do is stretch. Those old muscles are tight, and the tendons/ligaments are short and ready to pop. You really must stretch before your weekend warrior events or most any big exertional activity. That’s a big part of why yoga promotes longevity.
  • Fortunately, the main muscles of the heart and the diaphragm (your breathing muscle) do not lose muscle fibers with age because they are continually active. Yet, your heart and lungs have their own problems besides the muscles. That topic is forthcoming. All that said, be mindful that through ongoing exercise and training, you can stem the tide on these changes.

Young is as young does.

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0 thoughts on “Straight, No Chaser: Life Begins (To End) at 40 (Unless It Doesn’t) – The Musculoskeletal System

  1. Good Stuff! I’ve always been very active, and still am at 53. Activities are swimming, racquetball, golf, walking, stretching & weight lifting. The last 2 years I’ve been down to my weight at 19. While I’ve reduced body fat significantly, I’m having trouble building muscle?

    1. Thanks, Greg! And therein lies the challenge. As noted in the article, you’re not lying down new sheets of muscle anymore. You’re maintaining what you have and preventing it from dying. The crucial point to remember is that as good as you probably look, that really is the second goal at this point. It has to be about your health first, and I’m fairly confident, based on what you describe, you’re doing a great job there. Thanks for the comment and following Straight, No Chaser.

    1. Hi, Marcy. Eating protein by itself isn’t going to do anything for you if you’re not putting it to work; otherwise, you’re just adding more calories. Assuming you’ve lost muscle in your leg, and you’re not exercising at all, eating protein isn’t going to magically generate muscle. That said, there are other (illegal) substances that do perform that function. Your primary challenge (assuming you’re incapacitated) is to work with your physical therapist on a recovery plan that gets you active as soon as possible. Thanks for the question, and thank you for following Straight, No Chaser.

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