Muscle Mass Can Decline 25% In As Little As 2 Weeks ... But We Can Get It Back!


Cary Sweeney
July 2022

About 5 weeks ago I had an accident forcing me to be relatively sedentary while I recovered.  I’m on the mend, but now that I’m moving around more I’m noticing my strength and stamina is zapped. A walk to the corner store and climbing a flight of stairs is challenging. Prior to the accident, walking 2 miles was no problem for me!  

When we are injured, it’s been proven that in as little as two weeks, a physically fit older person who becomes sedentary can lose 25 percent of their strength.  Becoming sidelined by an injury can cause muscle loss due to a process called muscular atrophy. Typically, we begin losing muscle at a rate of 1-2 percent a year, starting around age 35. This age-related muscle loss is called sarcopenia. 

While you can quickly lose muscle because of muscular atrophy, you also can get it back. It's best to check in for advice from your doctor for recommendations for building and maintaining muscle. If you have chronic conditions, be sure to understand whether and how your condition affects your ability to do regular exercise safely.  Programs usually include a mix of physical activity and proper nutrition. 

Many benefit from adding physical activity to their routine. In this Tufts study, previously sedentary older people (men and women aged 70–89 years) reported the greatest benefits with fewer than 20 minutes of physical activity per week. By adding at least 48 minutes of physical activity to their weekly routine, participants in this study experienced the biggest reduction in disability risk. Read more about this study here.

While accidents happen and they can sideline us for months, sometimes years, there is some encouragement to know that we can regain our strength. In reading through articles on this topic, I particularly found helpful a series put together by Next Avenue, a nonprofit news source focused on the concerns of aging,produced by Twin Cities PBS. It’s one of my favorite news sources for issues related to growing older.  The series, called “Avoiding and Treating Injuries as You Age” has 6 parts and covers including lowering risk of injury, self-care tips to manage discomfort from aching joints, preparing and recovering for orthopedic surgery. 

In addition to this NextAvenue series, below are several other sources I reviewed and found helpful. Page 66 of the first resource from the Dept. of Health and Human Services provides a nice review of guidelines for physical activity. Being reminded that I can regain muscle and strength, with a little hard work, is reassuring to me as I move forward with recovery. 

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (Page 66, chapter focused on “older adults”)
Department of Health and Human Services 

Understanding Muscle Atrophy: Use It Or Lose It
National Academy of Sports Medicine

Muscle Loss in Older Adults and What to Do About It
Tufts University

Don’t let muscle mass go to waste
Harvard Health Publishing

Age and muscle loss
Harvard Health Publishing

Preserve your muscle mass
Harvard Health Publishing

Muscle Strength Fades After Just Two Weeks of Inactivity

How Can You Avoid Muscle Loss as You Age
Cleveland Clinic 

Publication date: 
July 5, 2022
Publication type: 
Journal Article