You’ve probably heard the statistic: Young people build muscle until age 30, but around age 35, adults begin to experience a loss of muscle mass — by 3-5 percent per decade.
I mention this to share with you a personal story about aging. I visited my dad in January 2020, just a few weeks before COVID-19 became a global pandemic. Dad and I did our routine of going to his local gym and working out. He did a few minutes of weights, a short run on the treadmill, and then swam 600 meters in the pool. Not bad for a guy about to turn 83.
Then COVID hit. All our lives were disrupted, and for him, that meant not being able to go to the gym.
When I went to visit my dad this past June, it was obvious that 18 months of not going to the gym had profoundly affected his leg strength. By June 2021, he required my assistance to go up and down stairs and was unsteady even on level surfaces. That was the start of a cascade of changes in my father’s quality of life.
Right around the same time, he had his annual eye exam. It was revealed that he had glaucoma, which had progressed to a point — because it wasn’t treated during the pandemic — where he was going to lose most of his vision in his right eye.
I decided to arrange for home physical and occupational therapy. On July 6, the physical therapist arrived for his first session with my dad. The therapist called to inform me that something else was clearly going on with my father. He had my dad admitted to the emergency room.
Without getting too technical, my father had a neurological condition that started with a B1 vitamin deficiency that was accelerated by months of inactivity. Six weeks later, he had gone from the hospital to a rehabilitation center to a second hospital and then to a new rehabilitation center. It is likely he will remain there for the rest of his life.
At 82 years old, my dad was very active and did what I call “the best kind of exercise” a.k.a., the one you’re willing to do. At 83 years old, he had stopped exercising and with the loss of his thigh strength came the loss of mobility and with the loss of mobility came the loss of independence. Without regular physical therapy, he eventually will be relegated to a walker, wheelchair, or bedridden.
This is not meant to be a sob story. Instead, I’m offering several life lessons for all of us:
- Don’t stop exercising, especially your legs! Losing muscle mass means losing mobility.
- Get your eyes checked regularly and protect your vision! Loss of vision equates to loss of independence.
- Don’t forget to make the most of your remaining summers left on this planet! The reduction in muscle mass is slow at first, but it speeds up quickly between ages 65 and 80.
The fact of the matter is for all the talk of the eight-fold increase in the number of people living to 100 compared to a century ago, we’re still talking about only 1 percent of the world’s population. Living your best life is not about longevity, it’s about quality. Granted, when you take care of yourself, you could live longer, but more importantly, with a healthy lifestyle comes better quality aging, no matter how many years you get.
The good news is you can preserve and rebuild muscle. So count those steps, do resistance training, eat protein, and reduce inflammation. Take care of your eyes and your thighs because the second you are unable to get out of your chair is the moment your quality of life changes forever.
Make an appointment with one of our physical therapists to check your muscle mass. Call us at 703-527-5492.