Retaining Muscle Mass: Use it or Lose it

Author: Corinne Bett   Date Posted:23 September 2015 

A recent study has proved the old saying true ‘If you don’t use it, you lose it’. The study looked at what occurred in the muscles of both old and young men, after a period of high inactivity. And it’s not only older people that can lose muscle strength due to a bit of stagnation! The study found that both young and older men, were affected when one of their legs was immobilized for 2 weeks.


Really? Tell me more….

After 2 weeks of inactivity, with one of their leg immobilised in a pad, the younger men, with an average age of 23 years, lost a third of the muscle strength in their leg; which can be compared to ageing by 40-50 years. The older men, average age of 68 years, lost one fourth of their muscle strength, and both groups decreased their physical level of fitness. The younger men lost more muscle mass than the older men, which was thought to be due to the fact that they had more muscle mass to lose in the first place.



And then what happened?

After this period of idleness, the men exercised by undertaking endurance training, cycling 3-4 times a week for 6 weeks. This cycling was sufficient for the younger men to gain back their initial muscle mass and level of physical fitness, but the older men only gained back their initial level of fitness, and not the same muscle mass. Both groups did not retain the same level of muscle strength that they initially had. Additional weights training was proposed to be required to increase their muscle strength.


And, the results are in….

It took the subjects three times as long to gain back their muscle mass as it did to lose it in the first place. This may be due to the fact that the subjects were completely inactive for 24 hours a day, leading to such a marked loss in muscle mass. It also illustrates the fact that we can lose muscle mass much more quickly with inactivity, than we gain it back with activity. The more muscle mass you have, the more you have to lose.

Although the younger men lost more muscle mass than the older men, the older men losing a fourth of their muscle mass was thought to be more detrimental, as this lost muscle mass may affect their quality of life and general health more significantly than their younger counterpart. It also appears that older men take longer to gain back their muscle mass following a period of inactivity.

This study just goes to show how important it is to keep yourself active to maintain a healthy muscle mass, strength and fitness at any age!


Written by Corinne Bett

Corinne spent her childhood helping her mother and grandfather in the garden grow various herbs and vegetables. This sparked a great interest in herbal medicine and nutrition in later life, and a passion for a wholefood diet. As a Naturopath today, she likes to empower others to utilise food as medicine, and live a healthy and balanced lifestyle. In her spare time she like to spend time in nature bushwalking and swimming, adventuring in far and exotic places, and dreaming about what kind of dog she might like to have one day.