Sarcopenia and Me – Or Why Exercise Really Matters as We Age

By Karen Roush, MS, RN, FNP-C, AJN clinical managing editor

Recently I started an exercise program with a personal trainer. I’ve been a runner for 25 years, even ran five marathons. I’ve never had a problem being disciplined about running four or five days a week, no matter what the weather. But I’ve never been able to stick to any other exercise program for more than a week or so. Working with weights, yoga, step classes, just doing push-ups in my living room when I get back from a run—never stuck with any of them.

Getting older isn’t kind to those who don’t exercise. Years ago my lack of upper-body fitness was hardly noticeable. Shoveling snow, raking leaves, playing racquetball, carrying my kids around, all of it kept me in good enough shape. That’s not the case now that I’m in my fifties. Lifting my grandson above my head—not happening. Hanging a new shower curtain – three clips – rest – three clips – rest…

When I found I couldn’t blow-dry my very short hair without lowering my arm repeatedly because of muscle fatigue, it was time to do something about it.  That’s when I decided to invest in a personal trainer. It was expensive—but I figured I would just do it long enough to make exercise, other than running, a routine part of my life, and then I could take it from there.

Wow. The first few weeks were eye-opening. I knew I was weak but I had no idea just how weak I was. I did a push-up, lowered my body back down to the floor . . . and there it stayed. No matter how much I willed my muscles to lift me back up—nothing. It was a new and discouraging phenomenon for me—I had always been able to push past limits; now I couldn’t push myself off the floor after one push-up. When I left the gym my arms were shaking, brushing my teeth required propping up my arm with the opposite hand. Weeks went by. One push-up, two, then five, then the magic number of 10. Reverse push-ups the same thing. Plank position for 30 seconds, then 45, then a minute, two minutes. Slowly my puny biceps and triceps strengthened, became barely discernible when I proudly flexed.

I had a wonderful personal trainer. When I lay in a humbled heap on the floor he pushed me to keep going, get up, try again. He knew what exercises were best for what I needed to accomplish and made sure I was performing them correctly. I feel fortunate that I was able to afford a few months of that kind of encouragement and attention. I consider it an investment in my health. I know not everybody can or wants to spend that money, and many don’t need to. They can be as disciplined about push-ups as I am about running. Or they have a friend or colleague to partner with and act as each other’s coaches.

When I was in the midst of awakening to how weak I had become over time, we at AJN received a manuscript about sarcopenia, the age-related loss of muscle mass. (Specifically, it was about sarcopenic obesity, “which describes the process of muscle loss combined with increased body fat as people age” and “is associated with loss of strength and function, reduced quality of life, and early death.”)

I found it fascinating; here was the science behind what I was experiencing. That manuscript is in this month’s issue—“Sarcopenic Obesity: Strategies for Management”—and after reading it, all I can say is, “Ain’t it the truth!”

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2016-11-21T13:11:13+00:00 December 7th, 2011|nursing perspective, personal health practices|3 Comments

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  1. Peggy December 7, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    So true! Although I struggle to maintain consistency, I find my upper body strength improves greatly with yoga. It’s a great exercise for us folks that are moving into this life phase, for muscle building, keeping limber, and maintaining peace of mind. There are many types of yoga styles as well so if you’ve tried it and didn’t like it, try at another place with a different teacher!

  2. jm December 7, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    Yes, and while aerobic exercise is of course crucial for the heart, etc., and for mental health reasons, and so on, the article makes the point that resistance training and adequate protein intake are crucial for combating sarcopenia.–JM, senior editor

  3. Joanne Laurent December 7, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    I hate exercised (plus fat food). 8 years ago, I had a stroke (ischemic CVA,). I was a exercised (physical therapist) about 2 1/2 years, quit, & resumed (off & on) on my own at the gym. I’ve moved, and I hadn’t exercised 1+ years. Last Oct, I’d resuming @ personal trainer, and guess what? I love it! My upper arms are weak (rt arm/hand are very weak). Yes, it’s very true-about sarcopenia age-related loss of muscle mass. The manuscript issued “Sarcopenic Obesity: Strategic for Management” I’m reading it’s fascinating. Thank you for sharing.

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