Muscle Loss Naturally Comes with Aging, Can You Slow it Down?

The answer is yes. Here are some basics about what it is and what can slow down the process.

You may have heard of the phrase “people shrink as they grow older”. This statement is descriptive of aging sarcopenia, the natural age-related loss of muscle mass, strength and function1 after the age of 30 years2.

Sarcopenia also comes with more bad news. “Normal” muscle function is reduced with 30% loss of muscle mass and strength.3 So with less strength or more weakening, the ability to move about and do things is affected. It leads to fewer activities, from chores to many pleasurable things like dancing, strolling, gardening, biking and more. This means some degree of disability. Extend the negative impact further and it also means loss of independence! That’s why the quality of life of the elderly spirals downwards.1,3

Sarcopenia is common. Up to 30% of above 60 year-olds suffer from it and more than 50% of above 80 year-olds have it.3 One’s lifestyle, particulary sedentary living and diet, can add to the risk of sarcopenia. The others are not controllable: age, disease and some treatments or medicines.1,3

Keeping your muscles strong

What can you do? Two things that the middle-agers and the elderly should be doing already - physical exercise and proper nutrition that will help maintain muscles mass.1,3 With regards to physical exercise and muscles, the “use it or lose it” rule applies. Research show that resistance and aerobic training have beneficial effects such as improving muscle strength and balance, respectively.4 Nutrition is another important component of the muscle-building process. Among the many essential nutrients are proteins from ones diet or their amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscles.3,4

People with sarcopenia lose about 1%–2% of their muscles per year after 50 years old. Between 50-75 years old the loss is about 25% and between 75-85 years old it is about 45-50%.3 Understandably, with weakening muscles, older people move in less stable gait or balance.

Although our numerical age will inevitably climb in the years to come, perhaps “muscle-wise”, one does not have be so visibly old or even act old. As a point of reflection for the middle–aged, it would be opportune to consider slowing down the aging process of muscles with exercise and nutrition planning.

References

  1. Cruz-Jentoft AJ, Baeyens JP, Bauer JM, et al; European Working Group on Sarcopenia in Older People Sarcopenia: European consensus on definition and diagnosis: Report of the European Working Group on Sarcopenia in Older People.. Age Ageing. 2010 Jul;39(4):412-232.
  2. Marcell TJ. Sarcopenia: causes, consequences, and preventions. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2003 Oct;58(10):M911-6.
  3. Paddon-Jones D, Rasmussen BB. Dietary protein recommendations and the prevention of sarcopenia. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2009 Jan;12(1):86-90. Review.
  4. Cruz-Jentoft AJ, Landi F, Schneider SM, Zúñiga C., et al. Prevalence of and interventions for sarcopenia in ageing adults: a systematic review. Report of the International Sarcopenia Initiative (EWGSOP and IWGS). Age Ageing. 2014 Nov;43(6):748-59.

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