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September 7, 2014, last updated October 3, 2015
By A. Lee, Contributing Columnist

By now, most of us have heard that you lose muscle mass as you age.
But how much muscle mass you lose may surprise you. Beginning in
your fourth decade of life, at age 40, important changes begin to occur
in the amount of muscle mass you have.  You begin to lose
approximately 1% of your muscle mass each year after the age of 40,
according to a 1991 study from Tufts University’s Human Physiological
Laboratory, led by Dr.W.R. Frontera.

What may really surprise you is that, in addition to losing muscle mass –
the size of your muscles –you are losing muscle strength at an even
greater rate.  Beginning at age 409, you lose 3 times as much muscle
strength as you lose muscle mass.

In other words, you lose 3% of your muscle strength each year.  

Several studies have confirmed this fact, beginning with a 2006 study
from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. That study looked at
1,880 men and women of different races.

Your Legs Are Going Fast

You’ve heard the saying “the legs are the last to go”. It turns out that
that’s not true. In fact, your legs go first and fastest. It’s just that they
show their decline last.

The Pittsburgh study discovered that while both women and men lost
overall muscle strength, men lost muscle strength twice as fast as

Moreover, the strength that you lose in your legs is startling. Men lose
3 times as much leg strength as they do leg mass.  Black men lost the
most, losing about 28% more leg strength than white men. Each year,
Black men lose 4.1% of their leg strength after age 40, while white
men lose and average of 3.4% of their leg strength each year after age

Black women lose 3% of their leg strength each year after age 40,
while white women lose 2.6% of their leg strength each year after age

Game Plan for Hanging on to Your Muscle Mass

Fortunately, the strategies for retaining muscle mass are pretty simple
to implement. None of these exercises require you to join a gym and
each of them can done in work clothes.

Take the Stairs. As the studies show, most of your leg strength
starts to rapidly decline after age 40.  The largest muscle in your legs is
your quadricep (thigh) muscle. Take the stairs.  Stair climbing builds
muscles in your thighs and your gluteus maximus (buttocks). Start with
a flight a day. Build up one extra flight each week. Walking is not
enough. Walking is an aerobic activity which helps to condition your
heart and control blood sugar. But it won’t build much muscle mass.
You need to climb stairs to build muscle mass.

Do Squats.  Same principle as climbing the stairs. Use your legs
to lift your body weight. If you are 200 pounds, doing three squats is
an almost 600 pound weight lifting set.  Aim for 3 sets of 8 squats
every other day to start. Once these become easy, aim for 3 sets of 12,
every other day.

Sit and Stand--a Lot.  The act of standing up becomes harder
with age because of loss of strength in your legs and hips, and the loss
of coordination. We sit-and-stand about 60 times a day om average,
according to a 2010 study from Glasgow Caledonian University. People
who work indoors at desk jobs actually sit-and-stand more than people
who work outdoors, it may surprise you to know.

Yet, by the time most people are old enough to live in nursing homes,
60% of them report difficulty simply standing up.

To fight the decline, train your standing and balancing muscles by
conducting a weekly “sit and stand” test. Using a hard-bottom chair, sit
with your feet touching the floor and your arms crossed over your
chest. Check your watch for the time. Then, stand and sit as fast as you
can for 30 seconds.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control. A man over the age of 60
should be able to complete more than 14 sit-and-stands in 30 seconds.
Anything 14 and under is considered a “below average” score. Men
over the age of 40 should aim to complete 18  sit-and-stands in 30
seconds minute. Men over the age of 50 should aim to complete more
than 16.

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Taking the stairs helps you to maintain
leg muscle mass and strength.