The biochemistry of aging muscle

Exp Gerontol. 2002 Apr;37(4):477-89. doi: 10.1016/s0531-5565(01)00220-0.


Between the ages of 20 and 80, humans lose approximately 20-30% of their skeletal muscle mass. This age-related loss of muscle mass, sometimes described as 'sarcopenia of old age', is the consequence of complicated multifactorial processes and is commonly associated with osteopenia or osteoporosis. Consequences of the aging changes in muscle are declining physiological function and loss of muscle strength, typically associated with reduced physical activities. Consequently, falls and subsequent serious injuries are prevalent in the elderly. Thus, it is imperative to try and understand the processes, leading to age-related muscle loss, in order to develop means to retard this phenomenon leading to improved quality of life in the elderly. It is possible to divide the causes of muscle aging to intrinsic factors, involving changes at the molecular and cellular levels, and to extrinsic or environmental factors. The purpose of this review is to describe some of the biochemical processes and the possible mechanisms of muscle aging and to evaluate the importance of various extrinsic factors such as nutrition, exercise and limb immobilization. Changes in the aging skeletal muscle are reviewed with regard to: (a) enzyme activities, protein turnover and repair capacities (b) mitochondrial functioning and energy reserve systems (c) ion content and regulation (d) oxidative stress and free radicals (e) nutrition and caloric restriction (f) exercise and limb immobilization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Calcium-Transporting ATPases / metabolism
  • Energy Intake
  • Exercise
  • Gene Expression
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria, Muscle / physiology
  • Muscle Proteins / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Oxidative Stress


  • Muscle Proteins
  • Calcium-Transporting ATPases
  • Calcium