How to get your disappearing muscles back

Muscle loss picks up around the age of 40 and speeds up even more by the time we’re 50. And without a consistent exercise program, your muscles lose strength. I bet you’ll be shocked to hear how fast muscles age when they’re neglected.

Would you believe that 2 weeks of inactivity can age your muscles by four or five decades?

Well, that’s what researchers at the Center for Healthy Aging and the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark found when they immobilized people’s legs for fourteen days.

Our experiments reveal that inactivity affects the muscular strength in young and older men equally. Having had one leg immobilized for two weeks, young people lose up to a third of their muscular strength, while older people lose (about) one fourth,” says researcher Andreas Vigelsoe . “A young man who is immobilized for two weeks loses muscular strength in his leg equivalent to aging by 40 or 50 years.”

And don’t think that just because you are muscular and in great shape that can protect you. The Danes found that the more muscle you have, you more you lose when you don’t use them.

“The more muscle mass you have, the more you’ll lose,” warns researcher Martin Gram. “Which means that if you’re fit and become injured, you’ll most likely lose more muscle mass than someone who is unfit, over the same period of time. But even though older people lose less muscle mass and their level of fitness is reduced slightly less than in young people, the loss of muscle mass is presumably more critical for older people, because it is likely to have a greater impact on their general health and quality of life.”

If you do lose muscle for any reason – illness, injury or no time to work out – the researchers warn that it takes three times as long to regain your former level of muscularity as it took to lose it.

That’s been my experience — if I have to stop exercising, I rapidly get out of shape and then getting back what I had seems to take forever. And the older I get, the tougher it is to regain.

The Danish study also demonstrates that lifting weights is the best way to recoup your muscle mass. Biking, jogging, swimming — aerobic activity is much less effective for getting re-muscled.

The muscular lesson: Use it or lose it. But don’t stop there. Increase you intake of protein and add a few choice vegetables to the menu:

  • A component known as homobrassinolide — a plant hormone found in members of the mustard family — has been shown to stimulate protein synthesis while preventing degradation of muscle.
  • Lab research demonstrates that green tomatoes include a natural chemical called tomatidine that protects against muscle atrophy and helps create new muscle tissue.
  • According to research at Georgia Regents University, vitamin E, found in spinach and avocado, appears to help keep muscle tissue young.

To get your muscles back, good food and good exercise should definitely do the trick.

Carl Lowe

By Carl Lowe

has written about health, fitness and nutrition for a wide range of publications including Prevention Magazine, Self Magazine and Time-Life Books. The author of more than a dozen books, he has been gluten-free since 2007.