Muscle Loss in Women Over 50

Well stretched woman
A 50-year-old woman doing yoga on a mat at home. (Image: KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images)

Hot flashes aren't the only effects of menopause that women over 50 have to deal with. Muscle loss is also a common side effect of menopause and aging in general. Although it's common for men to also experience muscle loss after age 50, women are even more prone to decreases in muscle mass, according to Washington University School of Medicine researchers.

Protein Storage

Women over 50 are less able to store protein than men. According to the Washington University Newsroom, a 2008 study published in the "Public Library of Science (PLoS) One" found that women over age 65 have a decreased ability to use protein from their diets to build muscle mass compared with men of the same age group. Although these effects may begin earlier than age 65, the most significant changes occur well after menopause has begun.

Estrogen

Estrogen is the culprit behind decreased protein storage as well as muscle loss in general. Women over 50 produce less estrogen than younger, premenopausal women, which contributes to significant losses in muscle mass. According to the website Medscape, a study published in "Clinical Science" journal demonstrated that women who receive hormone therapy after they reach menopause experience less muscle loss than those who don't. Decreased estrogen levels may also explain why postmenopausal women are less able to build weight during resistance training.

Lifestyle

Lifestyle may also play a role in muscle loss in women over 50. Women who live an inactive lifestyle may be more prone to muscle loss later in life. According to the University of Missouri, studies suggest that women who are confined to bed rest or who live a sedentary lifestyle may be at increased risk of accelerated bone loss after they hit menopause. Inactive women who also have unusually low estrogen levels are at an even higher risk for muscle loss.

Prevention

There are two primary ways that women can prevent accelerated muscle loss after age 50. First, women of all ages should engage in resistance exercise on a regular basis. Types of resistance exercise include lifting weights as well as exercises like squats and push-ups. Second, according to Washington University, women over 50 should be sure to eat enough protein, which helps build muscle and prevent muscle loss. Good sources of protein include meat, eggs, nuts and fish.

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