Muscle-strengthening activities and physical activity in the elderly

by Jort Veen

The global population aged over 60 years has increased from 382 million in 1980 to 962 million in 2017, and is expected to increase to nearly 2.1 billion in 2050. By 2030, older adults will outnumber children under the age of 10. This population ageing is not without challenges. As the average population age rises, governments and major health organisations need to address the interests of older adults.

One of those interests is independency and quality of life. In order to carry out daily life tasks, a healthy muscle strength and muscle mass are needed. Older adults invariably experience a progressive decline in muscle strength, skeletal muscle mass and physical performance. The official term for this condition is sarcopenia, which is now classified as a muscle disease that can eventually lead to frailty. The current prevalence of sarcopenia in people over 60 years old is about 10%; it is estimated that in 2050 approximately 500 million older adults will be diagnosed with sarcopenia.

To prevent the social and economic impact of health conditions like sarcopenia, major public health organisations have issued physical activity (PA) guidelines. The current PA guidelines recommend that older adults accumulate a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) per week and also engage in muscle-strengthening activities (MSA) at least twice a week or more. However, little is known about how MSA and adherence to 150 minutes of MVPA affect the risk of developing sarcopenia. In a cross-sectional study, we aimed to determine whether engagement in MSA is linked to sarcopenia risk in older adults who already meet the PA guidelines of 150 min of MVPA per week.

We recruited 193 community-dwelling men and women (65–70 years) in Örebro county (Sweden). They were assessed for handgrip strength (HG), how fast they could rise and sit five times from a chair (5STS) and for muscle mass. Based on these measurements, a sarcopenia risk score (SRS) was developed. Adherence to PA was assessed using an accelerometer; engagement in MSA was assessed by using a validated questionnaire.

We found that adherence to the MSA recommendations twice a week or more as well as fulfilling the 150 minutes of MVPA was related to a significantly (p < 0.05) lower SRS compared to older adults who did not meet the MSA recommendations. This finding was still significant (p < 0.05) after adjusting for protein intake, abdominal obesity, medication and tobacco use. Similar significant results (p < 0.05) were observed for the individual variables muscle mass and 5STS but not for HG.

It would seem that, in our studied population, adherence to the MSA guideline is related to a lower risk of sarcopenia in older adults who already meet the 150 weekly minutes of MVPA. Our results reinforce the promotion of the full PA guidelines to decrease sarcopenia progression in older populations.



Veen J, Montiel-Rojas D, Nilsson A, Kadi F. Engagement in Muscle-Strengthening Activities Lowers Sarcopenia Risk in Older Adults Already Adhering to the Aerobic Physical Activity Guidelines. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2021; 18(3):989.