As you age, you will experience a gradual and natural loss of muscle mass and strength (a process known as sarcopenia). While the rate and amount of muscle loss can vary based on factors such as lifestyle, genetics, and health, the average person can expect to lose between 3–8% of their muscle mass per decade after age 30.
This process can accelerate after the age of 60, and may also be impacted by factors such as a sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, and certain health conditions.
The true impact of muscle loss
Muscle loss that occurs with ageing can significantly impact hormone levels in both men and women.
In men, this can lead to decreased levels of testosterone, a crucial hormone in the development and maintenance of masculine physical characteristics, such as muscle mass and strength, and the growth of facial, and body hair.
In women, muscle loss can lead to decreased oestrogen levels, another crucial hormone in regulating the menstrual cycle, the heart and blood vessels, bones, skin, hair, and brain. This is particularly acute during and after menopause.
The link between muscle and hormones
Muscle tissue is metabolically active and plays a vital role in the regulation of hormones in the body.
Hormones such as testosterone and oestrogen can be metabolised in muscle tissue. Therefore, maintaining or increasing muscle mass can help to boost metabolism and hormone production.
Why you should care
Preventing muscle loss after age 30 can have several significant benefits for overall health and well-being. These include:
Improved metabolism: Muscle tissue is metabolically active, meaning it helps you burn more calories when at rest than other tissues.
Increased strength and physical function: Having healthy levels of muscle mass can help to improve your strength, balance, and physical function.
Better bone health: Resistance training can also help increase bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis (weakening of the bones) and other bone-related conditions.
Improved insulin sensitivity: Maintaining muscle mass can improve insulin sensitivity, which is important for regulating blood sugar levels and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
For men: Increased libido and less fatigue.
For women: Reduction of hot flashes, mood swings, and vaginal dryness.
How to prevent it
Regular exercise can help to slow or even reverse muscle loss. In particular, resistance or strength training can help boost hormone levels.
Additionally, maintaining a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and managing stress can support healthy hormone levels throughout the ageing process.
A word on Hormone Replacement Therapies
Hormone Replacement Therapies (HRT) are medical treatments that most commonly involve oestrogen and progesterone for women and testosterone for men (known as Testosterone Replacement Therapy—no, that's not the same as taking steroids).
HRT uses hormones to help replace or supplement inadequate hormone levels due to ageing or other medical conditions. Its goal is to ease symptoms associated with decreased hormone levels. However, HRT can have potential risks and side effects and the decision to use it should always be made by a healthcare professional, who can weigh the ramifications of the treatment for you.
Unless you are diagnosed with a medical condition, it may be beneficial for you to explore natural lifestyle modifications before resorting to medical treatments to manage hormone levels. Prevention is often better than intervention and HRT should never be seen as a "quick fix".
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