Can seniors build muscle mass?

With better living conditions and easier access to improved healthcare, people are living longer, but an important aspect to increasing your quality of life in old age is your overall physical fitness, of which muscle plays a big part. So the question is, can seniors build muscle mass?

This blog post will cover the inevitable aging effects with regards to muscle and body composition and their risks along with strategies to help you build and maintain muscle, giving you the best chance of good health in old age.

Living longer

The data supports that we are all indeed living longer, with the number of people over the age of 65 rising from 9.2 million to 11 million in the UK, in just over a decade (2011-2021) meaning that 18.6% of the population are over 65. Across the pond is no different, with the US population expected to reach 22 percent by 2050 which is a significant increase from 1950, when only a tiny eight percent of the population was 65 or over.

Ok, so more of us are reaching old age, this is a good thing right? Well, unfortunately there are some more stats that highlight how easy it is to get injured in later life

  • 1.3 million people over the age of 65 in UK suffered from a fall in 2021/22
  • 1 in 3 of those falls resulted in a fracture
  • Hip fractures are the most common, accounting for 40% of all the fractures suffered, meaning there were 74,000 hip fractures that year

Shockingly the research shows that the mortality rate within 12 months of a hip fracture in people over 65 is around 20%. This means that around 1 in 5 people over the age of 65 who suffer a hip fracture will die within the next year, which is crazy, considering the majority of these incidents can be avoided when possessing a stronger and healthier physique.

While we have focused on hip fractures it’s important not to lose sight of the bigger picture, as the numbers would be significantly higher were we to include dislocations and sprains, and not just for the hip region. The key takeaway is that as we age, the chances of injury increase and the chance of a full recovery decrease, clearly we need to take action.

The symptoms of aging

There are numerous symptoms that come with aging, including emotional and cognitive, but for our discussion we are concerned with the physical ones, specifically sarcopenia, which is the loss of muscle strength and or muscle mass. Although it should be noted that sarcopenia aside, we start to lose between 3%-8% of our muscle mass each decade from as early as our thirties, so building and maintaining muscle early on should be a priority.

You can assess for sarcopenia in 3 ways.

  1. The 4-m Walk Test. Measure out 6 metres. The first metre is the acceleration zone. The next 4 metres are the testing zone, followed by a 1-metre deceleration zone. Start the timer as soon as you cross into the timing zone, and stop it once you enter the deceleration zone. A result of 5 seconds or more is a bad result.
  2. Grip Strength Test Men should be able to record a score of over 30kg and women 20kg – Grip strength has been labeled as an important biomarker for overall health with one research paper stating that “grip strength can be recommended as a stand-alone measurement or as a component of a small battery of measurements for identifying older adults at risk of poor health status.”
  3. Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scan: This scan measures body composition, including muscle mass and bone density.
  4. Visiting a doctor/medical professional for assessment

Modern medicine is fantastic in treating illness and disease generally, but where it does fall short is in prevention. Of course, it’s never too late to combat the effects of lost muscle and strength, but there is no need to wait to be diagnosed with sarcopenia before taking action. Prevention is better than cure as the old saying goes.

So now we know of the risks and effects that come with aging, what can we do about it?

How to increase muscle and strength

So, the good news is that we can increase both muscle and strength regardless of experience or age and it doesn’t require anything unconventional from a training or nutrition perspective, the same rules apply to the older population as they do for the younger one. There are few principles that we must apply in order to promote strength and mass gains.


It is not enough to think that daily house chores will promote strength and mass gains – of course mowing the lawn, doing the hoovering, taking out the rubbish etc are all mini ways to keep active, but it will take intense exercise that is produced from a structured programme of resistance training to really see improvements.


    Volume is the amount of exercise you are performing, this is broken down into frequency (2-3 times a week can stimulate gains ) and the amount of work performed within those sessions, expressed with sets. A classic routine will consist of 3-4 sets per muscle group, with between 6-12 reps, with an 80% load of 1 rep – typically carried out over a 12 week period.

    Progressive Overload

    This is the concept of constantly challenging your muscles, so that they are always in a reactive state needing to adapt and grow to the stimulus that you are providing, rather than being in a balanced state. In short, if what was one hard, becomes easy to do, you need to make it more challenging. Ways to make an exercise more challenging is to increase the weight, perform more repetitions or sets, have a shorter length of rest between sets or perform more exercises per training session.


    You can still reap the numerous benefits that strength training has to offer, but if you don’t fuel your body adequately then you are unlikely to see any muscle growth. Your body must have a calorie surplus i.e have more than it needs for it’s normal bodily functions, using the “leftover” calories help in the muscle building process. Along with this you should aim for between 1.2g – 2.0g of protein per kg of bodyweight.


    • Due to improvements in the quality of life, people are generally living longer than ever
    • Slips and falls are both common and sometimes deadly, 1 in 5 hip fracture patients will die within 12 months of their fall
    • Sarcopenia and general muscle & strength loss beings at 30 and accelerates as we get older
    • Resitance training is the key to longevity, and anyone can build muscle with the right training and nutritional approach

    2 thoughts on “Can seniors build muscle mass?”

    1. How we treat our bodies our bodies will in turn treat us therefore it is so important that we eat right and do whatever it takes to live a healthy lifestyle that can actually cause us to live longer. I have seen seniors who were well-built with muscles that were well formed and it was pretty amazing to see. It is all about how we take care of our bodies. Thanks so much for this guide that is so helpful.

      • Hi Norman, yes so true, people need to realise that working out is so much more than looking good and resistance training is a key weapon in the fight for longevity! Thanks for you comment. 


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