Aging is associated with progressive loss of neuromuscular function that often leads to progressive disability and loss of independence. The term sarcopenia is now commonly used to describe the loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength that occurs in concert with biological aging. By the seventh and eighth decade of life, maximal voluntary contractile strength is decreased, on average, by 20-40% for both men and women in proximal and distal muscles. Although age-associated decreases in strength per unit muscle mass, or muscle quality, may play a role, the majority of strength loss can be accounted for by decreased muscle mass. Multiple factors lead to the development of sarcopenia and the associated impact on function. Loss of skeletal muscle fibers secondary to decreased numbers of motoneurons appears to be a major contributing influence, but other factors, including decreased physical activity, altered hormonal status, decreased total caloric and protein intake, inflammatory mediators, and factors leading to altered protein synthesis, must also be considered. The prevalence of sarcopenia, which may be as high as 30% for those >/=60 yr, will increase as the percentage of the very old continues to grow in our populations. The link between sarcopenia and disability among elderly men and women highlights the need for continued research into the development of the most effective interventions to prevent or at least partially reverse sarcopenia, including the role of resistance exercise and other novel pharmacological and nutritional interventions.