Let’s dive further into sarcopenia and the ways we can help prevent the loss of muscle mass as we get older!
Sarcopenia, also known as muscle loss or muscle degeneration, is a condition that affects middle aged people, starting around the age of 30 and increases in people over the age of 50. Every year as we age, we lose around 1% to 2% of muscle, on average. However, as we approach 60, this percentage increases to approximately 3% every year. Though this may not seem like a lot at first glance, it becomes quite noticeable in our appearance, life expectancy, and quality of life as we get older.
Although sarcopenia is seen mostly in people who are inactive, it can in fact occur in people who are physically active. Good news is that although some of the causes of sarcopenia are a natural part of aging, others are preventable and there are actions that we can take to prevent and even reverse the condition. The easiest action being regular exercise and a healthy diet.
You are probably wondering what are the signs of sarcopenia? The most early and noticeable signs of sarcopenia include feeling physically weaker over time. You may have more difficulty than usual lifting objects that you have lifted many times before. Decreased strength could also be evident in your stamina or endurance. You may find yourself walking more slowly, or becoming exhausted more easily. You may even begin to see your arms and legs becoming smaller with decreasing muscle definition.
Though it is important to remember that although declining muscle mass is part of aging, it does not mean that you are helpless and unable to do anything about it. With proper nutrition and exercise you can help prevent or reduce sarcopenia.
The most effective way to fight sarcopenia is to keep your body active. All types of exercise is beneficial, however, resistance and strength training is particularly advantageous in helping prevent and even reverse muscle mass loss. Resistance training includes weightlifting, pulling against resistance bands, or even using just your own body as resistance. When you perform resistance and strength training exercises, you are creating tiny tears in your muscle fibers. When your muscles recover from the strain, these micro-tears heal and the muscle fibers rebuild allowing your muscles to get larger and stronger. Resistance exercise is the most direct way to increase muscle mass and requires training at least two to three times a week to build or maintain muscle.
In addition to resistance training, sustained exercise that raises your heart rate, including, walking, aerobic exercise, and endurance training, can assist to control sarcopenia. However, exercise without some type of resistance training may not be as effective.
Proper nutrition is also important when trying to prevent sarcopenia. Making sure you get sufficient amounts of calories, protein, and certain vitamins and minerals is key. However, protein may be the biggest help when trying to deter sarcopenia. You should try to aim for about 1 gram of protein per pound of your body weight. When you consume about one gram per pound of body weight, it helps repair broken-down muscle, helps you feel satiated, and assists with the building and preservation of muscle mass. It is always recommended that you get your protein from food, however if you aren’t able to get enough of this macronutrient from food alone, shakes and bars are always helpful to supplement your protein intake.
Now you know the ways that you can help control or prevent Sarcopenia. Here is what NOT to do in order to prevent the acceleration of muscle loss!
1. Lead a sedentary lifestyle
It seems pretty obvious that if you don’t use or exercise your muscles, it will lead to quicker loss of muscle and weakness. You may have experienced a time when you had a decreased level of activity, which resulted in fatigue, as well as weight gain or muscle loss. Then when you tried returning to an active lifestyle, it was more difficult and took a while for your body to build muscle, lose fat, and increase in endurance. This is especially true for your muscles as you age. Without exercise, particularly strength training, your muscle mass and strength will decrease. Therefore, if you are living a sedentary lifestyle, it will be more challenging and take more effort to reverse the effects of sarcopenia.
2. Not fueling your body properly
Insufficient calories and macronutrients, particularly protein, will result in weight loss and diminished muscle mass. As individuals age, it becomes more common to take in lower calories and less protein. Many people believe that this is the way to a healthy body, however, taking in too few calories and not enough protein will actually result in the opposite of what they are wanting to achieve. Lack of sufficient nutrients will only accelerate muscle loss, and increase in body fat, especially in our older years.
3. Living with high stress
Though most of the time it is difficult to avoid stress, it just isn’t healthy for our bodies. As adults, we experience stress for various reasons; work, house responsibilities, finances, kids, etc. It happens to the best of us, as much as we try to avoid it. However, if you are living with high stress, it may be contributing to muscle loss. Stress increases our cortisol levels, which in turn impedes development of new muscles and causes our bodies to increase in body fat (particularly in our bellies). Chronic stress also causes inflammation in our bodies that can affect our health and activity levels, which can ultimately contribute to sarcopenia.
For those of you in your thirties and forties (if not even earlier), I cannot stress the importance of preventing muscle loss now. It will definitely be easier to create these healthy habits earlier than waiting until later in life. The good news is that it isn’t too late to build or rebuild muscle at any age! It may just be a little more challenging as you approach your fifties, sixties, and seventies. However, no matter your age, I urge you to focus on building or maintaining your muscles through strength training and proper nutrition. Get sufficient protein, and ensure that rest and recovery is included in your daily life. You and your body will be happier and healthier for it!