If you believe advertisements, muscle gain is just a matter of sweat. If you listen to motivational coaches on workout shows, getting fit is just the mind’s triumph over the body. It is made to seem like a moral choice, rather than a physical one.
But that’s not true. At least, that is never entirely true. There are complicated physiological reasons why muscle gain is easier or more difficult during different times in our lives. And for most people, muscle loss after 40 is expected.
Age-related muscle loss affects men and women with the same sort of physical and emotional wallop: gaining muscle, maintaining gains, and slowing down the increase of fat all become more difficult. This turn of events can be demoralizing and distressing.
But muscle loss after 40 isn’t always inevitable. With modern treatment options, some of the metabolic and hormonal causes of these changes may be reversible. While balancing your hormones doesn’t cause immediate muscle growth, it may give you the energy, drive, and balance you need to maintain and sustain muscle growth, even as you get older.
Understanding Muscle Loss After 40
Growing up, you probably understood that most people had trouble maintaining muscle growth as they got older. There was a reason why Jack LaLanne was famous for being able to tug boats with his teeth into his 80s—it seemed remarkable because the opposite was the norm. This thinking was so accepted that it wasn’t until relatively recently that science really began exploring the reasons for these changes in body composition and function.
Though it isn’t a commonly-known term, the scientific name for age-related changes in muscle tissue is “sarcopenia”, and it impacts both men and women. As a group of researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) explain:
Muscle mass decreases approximately 3–8% per decade after the age of 30 and this rate of decline is even higher after the age of 60. This involuntary loss of muscle mass, strength, and function is a fundamental cause of and contributor to disability in older people. This is because sarcopenia increases the risks of falls and vulnerability to injury and, consequently, can lead to functional dependence and disability.
Part of the reason this is so dangerous is that the loss of muscle mass correlates with loss of strength and increased frailty. This seems clear, of course, but the secondary effects can be devastating—particularly for men.
While sarcopenia impacts both men and women, the pace and effects of muscle loss are not the same. This disparity was made clear in a study published in the Journal of Nutritional Health and Aging.
[The rate of muscle loss is] twice as high in men as compared to women. [Men] have larger amounts of muscle mass and shorter survival than women which implies that sarcopenia is potentially a greater public health concern among women than men.
Different trajectories and different timelines but the result is the same: a loss of strength, a gradual inability to fully interact with the world, a diminution of independence and a loss of self.
So, what can be done to stop it?
Hormones and Muscle Loss: The Differences Between Men and Women
While muscle loss after 40 is universal, hormones impact men and women in different ways.
For men, the correlation between hormones and muscle loss is pretty straightforward. It is believed that the drop in testosterone, which happens naturally and gradually during the aging process, causes a decrease in muscle protein synthesis. This results in the loss of muscle mass as you age.
Most men over 40 recognize this process to some extent. It becomes harder to build lean muscle, no matter how much you exercise, and fat accumulates more easily. This combination makes it more difficult to work up the energy or the will to exercise—and harder to see results even when we do. When other symptoms of low testosterone are present, such as mood and sleep disturbances, restoring your desired body composition can feel impossible.
For women, the link between hormones and muscle mass is less straightforward or understood. As the USC researchers noted, while estrogen levels decrease abruptly during menopause, “ it appears that muscle mass is not affected by the decrease in estrogens” and “the rate of decline of muscle mass in women does not increase after menopause.”
So what explains muscle loss in women after 40? While there may not be a direct relationship, many of the symptoms of menopause can make muscle loss more likely. These include:
Some of these are clearly caused by the hormonal changes of menopause, others are exacerbated or augmented by it. Either way, lack of motivation and diminishing ability to exercise combined with a lack of immediate results can make it harder to retain muscle mass and maintain muscle growth.
Luckily, these are not inevitable and permanent conditions.
Hormone Therapy to Manage Muscle Loss After 40
Hormones can undeniably play a direct or an indirect role in muscle loss after 40—and often a combination of both. If you are experiencing symptoms of low testosterone, perimenopause, menopause and are concerned about muscle loss, hormone replacement therapy may offer you a path to feeling like yourself again.
With bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT), plant-derived hormones are custom-compounded to help restore your hormone levels according to your individual needs. Significantly, BHRT is known to address a range of symptoms and may have a positive impact on energy, drive, and physiological ability to maintain or increase muscle mass. When used as part of a comprehensive program that includes fitness and exercise, you can set yourself up for long-term success.
There is no one cause of muscle loss after 40. There is no magic bullet for stopping it. Looking and feeling the way you want takes dedication and drive. But it isn’t all in the mind—there are very real physical reasons for changes in your body composition. By understanding what is causing your muscle loss, you can take meaningful steps to manage it and try to protect your health as you age.
If you are interested in managing muscle loss after 40, BodyLogicMD wants to help. The expert practitioners in the BodyLogicMD network can assess your needs and design a personalized BalancePro plan to help you achieve your health goals. Set up your telehealth consultation, or take the Hormone Balance Quiz to learn more about the programs offered by BodyLogicMD.
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. All content on this website is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent diseases.